NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Seconds matter when you have an emergency. The good news is a quick call to 911 can get you help, but what if the call goes unanswered?
A spokesperson with the Department of Emergency Communications tells me that it can happen and does.
During a recent search for armed robbery suspects in Hermitage, two calls went unanswered after two suspects were spotted. Both calls were sent to an automated response, then five minutes after the initial call an operator finally called back.
“We cannot emphasize enough the importance of only calling 911 in cases of emergency, staying on the line if we are busy and knowing the address, cross streets or mile markers (interstates) where help is needed,” said Bruce Sanschargrin spokesperson with the Dept. of Emergency Communications. “Often the initial delay in sending help to an incident is due to the caller not knowing where they are.”
Metro Councilmember Erin Evans, who represents the Hermitage district where the calls went unanswered, believes someone should answer a call to 911 regardless of the situation.
“If the direction is to stay on the line that might not be something that is at the top of your line if you are incapacitated or whatever the situation might be so definitely the seconds are very critical when it comes to being responsive,” said Evans.
So why did the call go unanswered? According to the Department of Emergency Communications, there were 36 other calls being made to 911 during the 10-minute span the calls were made.
Is there a staffing issue?
A spokesperson tells News 2 there are 191 authorized positions in the department with 35 vacancies and 30 of those are call taker/dispatch position vacancies.
Daniel Horwitz represents the family of Akilah DaSilva, one of the Waffle House shooting victims. He has brought up issues with the Emergency Communications Center sending responders to the wrong Waffle House. He says these missed calls bring up even more issues at the center.
“If calls arent being answered, or they aren’t being answered timely, Or the emergency response is being sent to the wrong place then there is nothing that the fire department or the police department can do during an emergency,” said Horwitz. “My biggest concern is we don’t even know how big and severe the problem is because employees at the emergency communications center seem to be more interested in making sure that the public and the media never discover the problems that are happening there than actually addressing them in the first place.”
“We definitely have a fundamental problem in this city when it comes to emergency management in the sense that we know we don’t have enough people because we know we are not supporting those roles appropriately,” Said Evans.
Councilmember Evans would like to see more support and better salaries to a position she describes as stressful and demanding.
“We are not paying 911 operators enough money or we don’t support them enough,” said Evans.
Below are the current starting salaries and the time it takes to progress to the next level. ET1 – ET4 are automatic targeted promotions provided they pass their performance evaluation and do not receive any disciplinary action during that period.
ET1 Call Taking Trainee (1st 6 months) $37,177.61 / $17.87 hr.
ET2 Police Dispatcher (1 year) $40,542.65 / $19.49 hr.
ET3 Police Dispatcher (1 year) $44,212.28 / $21.26 hr.
ET4 Police, Fire, EMS Dispatcher $48,835.80 / $23.48 hr.
“They are working very hard long schedules and it is a very stressful and demanding job,” said Evans. So, I think we need to consider and put some support around those opportunities for people.”
“It is absolutely important we get this right there are clear problems there and we need to get them addressed,” said Horwitz.
The Department of Emergency Communications refused our repeated requests for an interview but did send News 2 information via email.