Baltimore 911 Call Center Struggles With Dropped Calls, High Wait Times
case of an emergency, we have been taught to immediately call 911 – three digits that can save a life. Unfortunately, callers in crisis are not getting the immediate responses that they need nor deserve, especially in Baltimore City, Maryland. Residents are not only placed on hold but are experienced dropped calls, forcing the City Council to investigate and rectify the mess.
According to the Baltimore City Fire Department, Baltimore’s 911 call center is the busiest in the state. The question that is being raised is whether there are enough agents and operators to keep the call center running smoothly and efficiently. This means answering every call and not allowing any to be discarded, which can put immense pressure on the operators just trying to assist those in need.
“We just don’t have the staffing we need,” Councilman Brandon Scott said. “Our citizens are getting the running message that at peak times, we have more calls coming in than people to take them.”
Prior to 2009, Baltimore had approximately 35 operators every shift versus 12 to 18 operators in 2017, according to the Fire Department. It is not just Baltimore that is suffering from dropped 911 calls, either. Earlier this year, the FCC began researching abandoned calls out of Dallas, Texas.
Originally thought to be ghost calls, where a phone dials a number repeatedly without the phone owner knowing, it was soon discovered that the calls were actually abandoned calls. This means the caller hangs up before the dispatcher can answer the call. Typically, the emergency caller’s number will come up and the operator is responsible for making sure that the caller is safe; that was not happening, as resident Bridget Alex shared.
“I don't care what they call it,” Alex said after her six-month-old boy, Brandon, died after calls to 911 went unanswered. “Had they did something, my son would probably be still here in my arms, and I wouldn’t be pleading with them. So explain to me, how did I lose my son that day?"
In Baltimore, the wait times are approximately six seconds, but can be longer with a multitude of emergencies coming in at once. In both Baltimore and Dallas, the common solution appears to be more staffing for higher efficiency. Without that, callers will continue to be disgruntled, leading to call center employees being subject to discipline and feeling helpless when, in reality, call center scheduling and staffing are at fault.
How long is too long to wait for a 911 call to be answered?
Edited by Erik Linask