911 System Investigation

You expect 911 to answer your emergency, but there's a good chance you will be put on hold or your call may not be answered immediately.

Channel 8's Kim Jackson investigates how 911 is in a crisis of its own.

911, it's the voice you need in time of distress, but it's not always available.

"Sometimes it can be funny when you look back and you're like I called 911 and they put me on hold. 'Did 911 just put me on hold?' can be funny that way, but if you have to call 911, it is not a joking matter."

In January, she called 911.

"Just fighting, you could hear the crowd...a huge fight across the street. It wasn't just one group. It was a couple of little groups on the phone with 911 on hold watching as if they were watching pay-per-view."

She says an operator placed her on hold for three to four minutes.

Tulsa's Channel 8 contacted Terry O' Malley, the Director of Tulsa's 911 System and she said, "It's true. You may receive a recording or a delay."

O' Malley says, "All you will hear is '911, you're on hold. Stay on the line,' something to that effect, that's what you hear."

Emergency calls going to a recording, Tulsa's Channel 8 wanted to know, is this acceptable?

Terry O' Malley says, "It is a reality, reality is that we have a limited number of people and if you are calling and have a hundred other people calling at the same time, there is no way you can staff for that."

We asked Mayor Dewey Bartlett what's being done to fix the problem.

"In a perfect world, with considerable amounts of revenues coming in, we would have all sorts of people hired and no one ever would wait," says Mayor Bartlett.

But people are waiting. The Mayor says the city council is to blame for rejecting his idea of extending a sales tax to fund public safety.

According to Mayor Bartlett, "If it would have been implemented, we would not be having these problems today."

Not so fast says Council Member Karen Gilbert. She says that money was not intended for the 911 system.

"Those dollars he was wanting to take out, that would have been less streets we are improving in our city or taking away the new helicopter for our police department or gear for our fire department, says Council Member Gilbert.

That means little to Shameeka Wyatt.

"Home invasion, or heart attack, something like that and you are being put on hold for them two or three minutes.. that's a lifetime," explains Wyatt.

They are hiring 13 people right now. But is that enough?

Terry O' Malley says, "There are times you are going to call in when we are overwhelmed with calls and the reality is the best you can do, for yourself, is just stay on the line."

There are three operators that dispatch calls to Police, Fire or EMSA and sometimes those operators are overwhelmed with calls.

"I need more sales tax income and I need more cell phone fees," says O'Malley.

She says if she had more money, she would immediately hire 30 more people. Even with 10 dollars more per shift, she knows this will help answer those calls.

Director Terry O' Malley says there is no way to answer every call, when several people call at once.

The problems are worse with police operators they have the longest wait time. 32 percent of their callers may have to wait longer than 20 seconds.

It's a national crisis. Too many calls, not enough operators. The directors say they try to manage schedules, but no one can predict a crisis, not even here. So if you do receive a recording don't hang up.

According to Director O' Malley, "The phone has you logged. Someone will get to you."