News : Memphis Trying to Improve 911 Service
Memphis, TN, USA, Oct 15, 2015 -- Under scrutiny for slow response times to emergency calls, the city of Memphis is hiring new 911 operators and is looking at whether it should build a new call center.
Memphis Chief Administrative Officer Jack Sammons said a host of problems are causing the delays, including public misunderstandings about when to call 911, understaffing and cramped and rundown offices in the Shelby County Justice Complex in Downtown.
"Memphis has kept putting Band-Aids on the one we've got," he said of the call center.
Those issues can have devastating effects on response times, and on the amount of time it takes for operators to answer calls. Sammons said the city is answering 911 calls within 20 seconds about 37.2 percent of the time — far short of its goal of 95 percent.
The issues at the center came to light after Emergency Medical Services were slow to respond to a 911 call from Mike Matthews, a reporter for television Channel 24. City Council member Janis Fullilove told Matthews she'd experienced a similar situation when her husband had a heart attack.
"Could not get an answer," she told him. "Had my neighbors call. They couldn't get an answer. I don't want citizens to think these ladies aren't doing their jobs. They are. But they are overworked and understaffed."
Sammons said he's briefed mayor-elect Jim Strickland about the issues, and is working to prepare a report by the end of the year on a number of long-term solutions, including building a new call center for police and fire dispatchers and cross training them. The city is also reviewing best practices of other cities to include in the report.
"We are steadfast in our determination to meet this challenge head-on and improve the level of service," he said. "It's just one of our core competencies, and the city has to do a better job."
Sammons said he started the process to hire 28 more dispatchers in May, shortly after becoming CAO, and has had a staff member dedicated to the project since then. Channel 24 reported Thursday that 17 new dispatchers would start work Monday, but Sammons said he wasn't aware of that.
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Sammons also said the new Office of Performance Management has been tracking 911 response times. In August, the city received 51,542 calls, 29,917 of which were abandoned by the callers before an operator picked up — even though operators are required to call back, causing further delays for staff. And many of the calls — 4,490 in August alone — came from the same 50 people. The most needy caller in the system averaged 11.5 calls per day in August, with each call lasting an average 86 seconds, Sammons said.
But the numbers collected by Performance Management aren't all bad, he said: EMS cut its response time down from 10 minutes 30 seconds in April to less than 8 minutes in August.
He said city officials have had "numerous meetings" with the 911 board, and had made "real progress" in improving the system.
"This is a project we won't finish in this term, but we're making real progress," he said.
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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