I-Team investigates after long 911 delay discovered

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Man Waits More Than 2 Minutes To Talk To Dispatcher After Calling 911

CLEVELAND, Ohio (WJW) -- The FOX 8 I TEAM has found a man waited more than two minutes to talk to a Cleveland dispatcher when he called 9-1-1, and we had good reason to investigate if the same thing could happen more often—maybe to you.

Cleveland dispatchers just recently began handling all 9-1-1 calls made in the city from cell phones. That has led to an increase of 400 calls per day.

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Matt Reidy called Cleveland 9-1-1 when he saw a car smoking and heard people screaming a week ago Saturday near I-90 and East 55th. The I TEAM obtained a dispatch recording showing 4 rings, then a recording explaining operators were busy with other calls, then the same recording in Spanish, then 8 more rings, then the message again, and 4 more rings before someone picked up. All told, a wait of 2 minutes and 5 seconds.

Reidy said, "I was driving down the interstate. I saw a bunch of white smoke....But I was told to call 911. So I did. and it rang and rang and rang and I got, 'you've reached Cleveland 9-1-1 don't hang up'." He added, "I've never called 911 and had to wait. Usually rings once, maybe twice at the most."

So the I TEAM went to city hall. What about the impact of all those extra 9-1-1 cell calls coming in?

Commander Debra Cavett oversees the dispatch area. She said, "We're trying to streamline some of the calls." She says new procedures should help dispatchers handle more calls more quickly. That is, especially when many calls come in at once on the same incident. Dispatchers are focusing on critical information and getting contact numbers in case they need to call back and get more details later. In the case of that recent accident, the city says 9 calls came in over the course of just 4 minutes.

The city says it's also working to hire more dispatchers. Right now, there are 13 openings for 98 jobs. Commander Cavett says the staffing is a concern. She said, "Well actually it is an impact. It's an impact that we have to backfill with overtime, but we do have to fill it." She added, "Every call is important, but what we don't want to do is tie up the phone lines with excessive calls about the same accident."

Of course, callers don't know when someone else is reporting the same thing. And Matt Reidy said, "To be put on hold like that...it's scary."

The city says 5 new dispatchers are starting training later this month. However, they won't be ready to start handling calls on their own until September. In the meantime, the city is hoping to start another training class for the rest of the job openings soon.

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