Shouldn’t 911 calls be answered?

911 call centers generally have a service level of 100/5 that is to say they answer 100% of calls within 5 seconds. This is the level of service that everyone expects when we call a 911 center.

A news story on the week end told a different story. In Harrison Township Ohio they recently launched their 911 center, but on the 26th they were experiencing problems…calls not being answered, calls dropped, calls transferred to wrong extensions and departments and then transferred back. In any call center this would be a problem, in a 911 center this could be a fatal catastrophe.

In this particular case more than 15 phone calls were placed to report a fire, some of these calls went unanswered, on others agents couldn’t even spell the street name. The fire department responded to the fire in 4 minutes once they received the dispatch. Unfortunately the dispatching took more than 10 minutes from the time of the first call to 911.

The house was destroyed by fire, but fortunately no one was injured.

Sheriff’s Department Captain Rob Streck stated that the problems were caused by a ‘computer malfunction’. In the news video I saw on CNN referenced ‘problems’ with their new Nortel phone system. The new center performance was still summed up by the Captain Streck who said “the first day in the new center went smoothly”. This attitude is and should be unacceptable.

Now I don’t have any special or unique insight into this Harrison Township 911 call center, but I have seen similar problems and challenges unfold in other call and contact centers. Symptoms of: dropped calls, missed transfers, transfers to unmanned extensions, and uniformed agents, all of which have been reported to have occurred in this situation, are due to a lack of planning, lack of training, and a fundamental lack of appreciation for the complexities inherent with this type of a technology upgrade that is bordering on negligence.

I certainly hope that the individuals who were responsible for this call center implementation are never allowed anywhere near a call center I rely on.

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