Bystanders jump inside as an Atlanta woman waits for emergency services

ATLANTA, Georgia (CBS46) – You might expect to hear an automatic recording when you call your power company or cell phone provider, not when you call 911. But that’s exactly what’s happening to thousands of 911 callers in Atlanta.

In an emergency where every second counts, a CBS46 investigation discovered a frightening trend. In 2020, about 5% of 911 callers in Atlanta were on hold for more than 40 seconds. In 2021, that number grew to 9%, and in the first four months of 2022 that number jumped to nearly 13%.

Atlanta E-911 Director Desiree Arnold blames the low staff, high call volume, and tech issues for the longer wait times. Logs show that at least three power outages have also occurred at the Atlanta E-911 Center since November.

The Atlanta E-911 Center receives approximately 3,000 calls every day and 1.2 million calls per year. At present, their telephone systems do not separate emergency calls from non-emergency calls.

‘Please don’t hang up’

While waiting at a traffic light in northwest Atlanta, a man walked past Alexandria Hadd’s car and started screaming.

“It started hitting the hood, then eventually broke the wiper blade,” Hadd said. In a panic, he puts his car in the park. “When I put him in the parking lot, my doors unlocked automatically and that’s when he got into my car,” explained Hadd.

She grabbed her phone and called 911. She was greeted with this recording: “You have reached the city of Atlanta 911. Your call is very important to us. Please do not hang up, the next available operator will answer your call.

Desperate for help, he hung up and hung up, but heard the same recording. While waiting, passersby pulled the man out of his car.

“I don’t know if he was having an acute mental episode or if he was otherwise distressed at the time. I don’t really know why he chose my car to stand in front and attack, but he did, ”Hadd said. “If it weren’t for the bystanders pulling the man out of my car, I don’t know how long I would have been at that time.”

Alexandria Hadd grabbed her phone and called 911. She was greeted with a recording.
Alexandria Hadd grabbed her phone and called 911. She was greeted with a recording.(Rachel Polansky)

She came home and called emergency services again. This time, you spoke to a switchboard.

“I called twice but it didn’t go through. And then I hung up. She was in the middle of an emergency, “Hadd told the switchboard.” She pulled the windshield wiper off my car. I, I was trying to call you guys. “

Longer waiting times

CBS46 discovered a frightening trend in numbers, showing an increase of 911 wait times. In the first four months of 2022, nearly 13%, or more than 40,433 people, waited for more than 40 seconds. This is an increase compared to 2021, where it was at 9% and to 2020 at 5%.

Most 911 callers in Atlanta don’t wait longer than 10 seconds. In the first four months of 2022, about 75 percent of Atlanta’s 911 callers or 245,855 people called emergency services and waited less than 10 seconds to speak to a real person.

“I thought you made it right away, all the time,” said Stephen Canavan.

Stephen Canavan was also greeted with a tape when he called the emergency health services in North Atlanta last month.

“I called to report an alarm [going off] here at Lindbergh MARTA station. I was put on hold and ended up in a loop, ”Canavan said.

The recording was played over and over for more than five minutes before a supervisor answered. Canavan recorded the call and shared it with CBS46 Investigates.

“Obviously 911 could be a life or death situation,” Canavan said. “In my case, it wasn’t, but there has to be a better response time.”

E-911 Management Agreements

“Is that a problem?” CBS46 investigative reporter Rachel Polansky took the Alexandria and Stephen stories directly to Atlanta E-911 director Desiree Arnold.

“Yes. It’s a problem. We’re working to fix these problems,” Atlanta E-911 director Desiree Arnold told Polansky.

Atlanta E-911 director Desiree Arnold blamed the high call volume and low staff for the longer wait times.(Rachel Polansky)

Arnold blamed the high call volume and low staff for the longer wait times.

“If you want to help us solve the problems, join the team,” Arnold said. “Along with everyone else, we are experiencing a staff shortage. It is a national question. We are not immune to it. We are working on hiring. We have organized job fairs. We are actively and continuously recruiting. “

According to vacancy data, Atlanta plans 170 positions for E-911. Currently, 141 of them are filled. Arnold said 18 of these positions were created last year due to an increase in 911 calls.

“Last year the city council approved salary increases for our employees. It was a significant salary increase, from 15% to 20% for some employees, to make us more competitive in the industry, “Arnold said.

911 power outages

Staff isn’t the only factor affecting wait times.

Through public records, CBS46 investigates found that three power outages have occurred at the Atlanta E-911 Center since November. Two took place in November and one in February. After the February accident, a city worker recommended that the city buy a new power supply because the old one was “20 years old and at the end of its life.”

Also in February, the cooler went out of business, causing an air conditioning failure and the on-site layoff of the emergency health services.

Arnold said he couldn’t deal with outages and infrastructure and sent Polansky to the Department of Enterprise Assets Management (DEAM), the department that oversees the city’s buildings, facilities and maintenance. A DEAM spokesperson told us that a $ 3.6 million plan is now in the works to replace and upgrade equipment at the E-911 center.

Burden went on to say construction is expected to begin in August 2022 and finish in May 2023.

Many online have noticed the recent problems with Atlanta 911 response times. Here are some of the ...
Many online have noticed the recent problems with Atlanta 911 response times. Here are some of those comments.(CBS46)

separate calls

The Atlanta E-911 Center receives approximately 3,000 calls every day and 1.2 million calls per year.

At present, their telephone systems do not separate emergency calls from non-emergency calls.

“We are looking to upgrade the phone system so that we can differentiate the two, so that we have 911 calls in one queue and non-emergency calls in another queue,” Arnold said.

Arnold expects the update to be rolled out by the end of 2022.

In the meantime, if you call 911 and hear a recording, DO NOT hang up. Arnold said hang up and call back will not put yourself first on the call line. In fact, it will only create more problems for whoever receives the calls.

“Don’t hang up the phone. Someone will answer the phone, “Arnold reiterated.

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