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Budget cuts delay response times for 911 calls

June 2, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
It's a life threatening issue as emergency workers warn that L.A. city budget cuts and furloughs are dramatically slowing the response times for 911 calls. Budget cuts are threatening the way 911 calls are being taken at the downtown Los Angeles dispatch center. The amount of time it takes for dispatch calls to be answered are lengthening. More cuts are expected on July 1st.

Brandy Holly has been working in the dispatch center for five years. Mandatory furloughs and cutbacks mean 15 fewer operators will operate emergency calls each day. The national standard is taking 90 percent of the calls within 10 seconds. In Los Angeles, it has dropped to 88 percent.

"That other 12 percent of the time it could take up to 20 to 30 seconds before we get to a 911 call," said Regina Scott, LAPD Communications commander.

Scott said that some emergency calls have taken up to a minute before being answered.

Operators don't get any relief. They're shorthanded because of the furloughs, cutbacks and hiring freeze. The Metropolitan Communication Center had over 200,000 unanswered calls in 2008. They got that number down to 172,000 last year.

"Most of those calls hang up within seconds. So with assumption that they're hanging up within a second, one would assume that they were either accidental calls or wrong numbers that we weren't able to get to," said Scott.

The dispatch center can switch almost immediately to 911, from operators handling normal calls if the load gets heavy. But the stress level for operators with back to back calls has increased dramatically.

"We don't have an opportunity to tell the citizens, even though we're taking these furlough days you don't get any help. There's just that pressure to keep people happy and make sure they get the assistance they need," said Holly.

The furloughs are scheduled to increase for all operators starting July 1st. The 911 operators hear what's going on at the other end of the phone. They've heard the screams, the panic and the cries for help. They understand that every second can make a difference.

"I know that it sounds like 20 to 30 seconds isn't a lot but I think if you're having a heart attack or if you're having any other medical emergencies, every second is a critical time," said Scott.

There is a number you can call where you can get police information that won't interfere with 911. It's 1-877-ask-lapd. Using that number instead could possibly help someone out by keeping off the 911 lines.

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