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Someone should call 911 for Atlanta 911. Audit says it can take more than five minutes to transfer calls to dispatcher.

When you look at the 911 stats reported by an auditor hired by the City of Atlanta you have to wonder if the Atlanta Journal Constitution got this one wrong. There is no indication at this point that's the case. But to take as long as five minutes and thirty seconds for a call taker to send the call to a dispatcher 95 percent of the time is somewhat chilling.

Then again, I am not exactly sure what the "as long as" part means in this case. The article doesn't use the word "average". Are these the unusual ones that take that long? I get the impression that's not the case from reading the article, but I would love to see the actual auditor's report and the language used.

From the AP:

Atlanta's auditor says the time between an Atlanta 911 operator taking an emergency call and relaying that information to dispatchers is more than 10 times the recommended national average.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution says the report by auditor Leslie Ward says the damage done by the delay is compounded by delays in dispatching fire fighters or paramedics.

Ward said Tuesday that quicker responses reduce property damage and the chance of injury or loss of life.

The national standard is that information should be transferred from a 911 operator to a dispatcher within 30 seconds at least 95 percent of the time. The report says in Atlanta, that first transfer of information takes as long as 337 seconds in 95 percent of cases.

Here's an excerpt from the article by Rhonda Cook:

The national standard is also that it should take less than a minute to dispatch emergency medical responders but in Atlanta, that took more than three minutes in 90 percent of the calls last year.

"It could cost both lives and property," Atlanta Fire Rescue Chief Kelvin Cochran said of the delays.

The audit was begun to review Atlanta Fire Rescue staffing, but Ward said the focus shifted to the handling of calls.

She noted that her office was unable to do a complete audit of response time because 90 percent of the calls for a medical emergency are routed through Grady Hospital first before the more serious ones are returned to a fire department dispatcher. That means once the call leaves the city's E911 system, there is no "time recorded," Ward said. "There's a gap."


Comments - Add Yours

  • Bill Carey

    Pssst. They're not dispatchers anymore; they're '911 Telecommunicators.'
    Bill Carey


    I am a dispatcher, always was, still am……the p[roblems came when they started with that telecommunicrapper thing…………the computers are for monkeys….monkeys and telecommunicrappers.   Dispatchers knew how to question the caller and get the jist of the call right away—now its a bunch of inane questions that mean nothing. Bring back the Dispatchers, put the telecommunicrappers in the terolet.

  • J Gordon Routley

    Based on years of experience with reporters and statistics, I would be prepared to bet that the reporter didn't really grasp the concept of "95% within 30 seconds". That's not unexpected as many fire service and communications professionals also have difficulties with this system of reporting performance.
    It would be a truly sad state of affairs if the 9-1-1 Center in Atlanta really took an average of 337 seconds to handle 95% of their calls. The really significant figure is what percentage of calls are handled within the objective of 30 seconds. Do they process the call within 30 seconds 50% of the time — 60% of the time — 70% of the time — 80% of the time?
    Let's just imagine that they hit the mark 90% of the time, which means that they don't hit it 10% of the time. But out of the 10% that they miss the 30 second mark, exactly half are processed within 45 seconds —  that would mean they meet 30 seconds 90% of the time, but their 95% percentile performance level is only 45 seconds.
    Depending on the reporter they could get credit for meeting the objective 90% of the time, which is only 5% short of the national standard…or they could end up being accused of taking 45 seconds to manage 95% of their calls when the national standard is 30 seconds. Same figures – different reporter.
    Every 9-1-1 Center receives a few calls that end up taking a lot of time…the ones that come from someone's uncle in a distant land who doesn't speak much english and who received a e-mail that indicated that the individual in question who might live somewhere in the vicinity of some vague location might be in urgent need of medical assistance. Those calls en up taking a lot longer than 30 seconds … in fact some of them might take 10 minutes to figure out the appropriate answer the WTF????
    That's where we commonly see wild card figures coming into the system. The 95th percentile for call processing might be 45 seconds, but the 96th could jump up to 69 seconds, then the 97th might be 134 seconds, the 98th might be 257 seconds and the 99th could be 337 seconds.
    But what about the 100% performance level? That probably ends up being two and a half hours, because of that one call when they never could figure out what Uncle Willie was trying to tell them in whatever language he was babbing into the phone. Let's imagine how that would come out on the front page if it appeared in the auditor's performance report that was assigned to the mathematically-challenged reporter to write the story.

    • dave statter


      If it really is taking an average 5 minutes 37 seconds to ge through the first step Atlanta might want to think about shutting down the 911 center and do a big ad campaign listing all of the police, fire and EMS facilities with the line, “You come to us, it’s faster””. It will save the city some money in the long run. If I had taken anywhere near that amount of time on a call our former mutual boss would have fired me.

      But. like you, with the “as long as” line my antenna remained raised and think there is more to these stats (something akin to what you have so nicely explained). As I said before I want to read the auditor’s report. I will keep looking.


  • Chiefbobr

    Dave: Gordon hit the nail right on the head. There's a big difference between 'as long as', 'average', and what percentage of time an agency is able to achieve that average, whether it's response time or alarm processing time. The most accurate data should always relate to what percentage of time that an agency is able to achieve its stated goal; in this case, alarm processing time, i.e.,"all calls for assistance should be dispatched within 30 seconds of receipt by the call center, 95% of the time"  No FD should be held accountable for those processes which are not under its contraol and in Atlanta, that sounds like virtually all of the call-taking and dispatching processes. The question that I would ask is why in the world are medical call requests being routed to a hospital before they're received in the FD's dispatch center? There are a number of good systems in existance (the Clawsen Dispatch System, among others) that would totally eliminate the need for that, while still insuring a rapid dispatch on Priority 1 or 3 calls with minimal delays. The time delays pointed out in this article should be totally unacceptable, as properly noted by Chief Cochran.

    • dave statter


      I had no doubt from the start that the “as long as” was a red flag. Gordon, as usual, explains and puts it in perspective. I just found the report itself.

      I am getting the impression, it is bad, but that the 5:37 time may be misleading the way it is presented in the article. The median time is 2:38, which, of course, means that it took longer than that in 50 percent of the calls. Obviously that is not good. Read it and tell me what you think.


  • Anonymous

    I have read the article and the comments. Chief Routley spoke well in his descriptive perspective. The Primary concern here seems that the 911 Call Takers need some In Service Training and/or Remedial Training to fully comprehend the CAD System. Atlanta being one of themost beautiful Cities and a population that dictates the best level of Public Safety Services. Chief Routely  elequently points to percentages of postive Call taking and processing as well as what might be construed as unacceptable wrong efforts in some Call taking. One can only presume Atlanta has a good Respectable CAD System that works pretty good. The 911 Call Takers need only to question the (1) Call taker/Taxpayer to verify the nature of the Emergency. (2) Verify the Address Listing in CAD. (3) Verify the Telephone Number the caller is speaking;Today people utilize a cell Phone readily handy instead of a Landline phone. This is critical because there are cases where cell phone numbers differ from landline numbers. (4) In determining the Nature of the Emergency is the call EMS/BLS/ALS is the Patient Conscious or unconscious. Is the patient Breathing or not. Once this critical 911 call interview is complete then 911 Call Taker immediately forwards the call to The Dispatcher for processing. The call taker isnot/shouldnot be the Primary be the Decisionmaker for type of call, what Resources are needed etc. As far as Hospital Intervention as I read before the Dispatch process is done seems inappropriate. THe 911 Call/Dispatching Process is Pre Hospital. Once the primary Resources/Personnel are on scene and Patient Assessment is made, then Hospital Intervention with Physican Directed orders for any ALS Treatment is done. keeping mindful Atlanta is not anunincorporated Rural area where Response Times become absolutely Critical. Response Times in a City Urban/Suburban Locale is of Paramount importance. It all begins with 911 Call Taker Proficiency initially. If I recall Atlanta had a similar situation several years back when a 911 Call Taker took trhe 911 information and the wrong not the closes Resources were Dispatched. I belive the same 911 call taker had a previous situation occur. ie; Streets with Duplicate names Maple AVE, Maple AveNorthy/South etc. The Bottom :Line here, 911 Call Takers are an Integral part of the overall Public Safety Servants to the Taxpayers. Their job isnot an Answering Service. Their Job and their Attitude must always be Professional and Train to improve their Proficiency. "911 Call Takers must always Treat 911 Callers/Taxpayers the same exact way they would want and expect their Family to be Treated" Anything less which contributes to delayed Response is unacceptable in today's 21st  Century Public Safety.
    Thank You

  • Anonymous

    Sound like there is a political appointee running things and not someone with experiance. With what appears to be no direct fire department involvement in the flow of dispatch, the fire department is a pawn in the shell game being played here. Nothing new. It's being done in all parts of the country. Some just do it better than others.