San Diego Makes 911 System Improvements

It sounds like your worst nightmare: you need help right away because you have been in an accident, kidnapped, or suffered a serious injury. Fortunately, you have managed to get to a phone to call 911. You wait patiently assuming that help will be on the way soon. However, the 911 dispatcher isn’t responsive to your questions or doesn’t seem to understand how urgent your situation is. You may have even ended up on hold, awaiting the chance to speak with a 911 dispatcher.


It sounds shocking but this is exactly what prompted the city of San Diego to make updates to its 911 system after the death of a Mira Mesa infant in a dog mauling.


Infant Death Leads to New Calls for 911 System Improvements


On April 21, 2016, a family in Mira Mesa suffered a devastating animal attack which ultimately resulting in the death of their infant child. The parents said that they were in bed watching TV when the mother coughed, startling the family dog causing it to bite their newborn baby. The couple had called 911 twice before driving to the hospital after the family dog attacked their baby. The baby was later pronounced dead at the hospital, according to police.


Had there been a prompt response to the couple’s 911 call, the outcome might have been different. However, the failure of the San Diego 911 dispatcher system meant that it took the couple longer to get help than if the call would have been answered promptly. In addition, without the aid of the 911 dispatcher, the couple was not instructed on how to deliver urgent medical treatment to their infant child while the child was in transport to the hospital.


The 911 system also failed other residents in two home invasion cases in Bankers Hill and La Jolla. The residents both waiting an average of 7 minutes to get hold of 911 dispatchers after intruders were discovered in their homes during the night. In the Bankers Hill case, the intruder escaped. In the La Jolla case, the two suspects were later found hiding under neighbors’ cars and were arrested by the police.


Although these two home invasion incidents did not result in any injuries for the victims, the poor response times of San Diego’s emergency dispatch system has left people in life-threatening situations. Long call wait times are a threat to public safety and are not acceptable.


Why Did San Diego’s 911 System Fail Its Residents?


The city faults the pension crisis and economic recession for the poor service delivered by its 911 system. The San Diego 911 call system experienced a series of budget cuts from 2008 to 2012, resulting in a lag in call pickup times.


These budget cuts have resulted in fewer dispatchers being available to answer calls despite the fact that call volumes have increased. While the city has made some recent attempts to fix the situation, by adding 16 emergency and non-emergency lines, these improvements were only able to address the busy signals that some 911 callers experienced. However, the updates did nothing to address the increasing wait times.


According to officials, the wait times to speak with a 911 operator in 2015 averaged roughly 13 seconds. San Diego’s 911 system has a goal to answer calls within 10 seconds 90 percent of the time, but only reached 67 percent in April of this year. In 2015, this target was only reached 80.67 percent of the time with a total call volume of 672,834 calls.


Upcoming Improvements


The city plans to implement more aggressive policies to improve the 911 call system. Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s plan for updating the 911 call system, include:


  • Additional funding for dispatcher recruitment and retention.
  • Analysis and reporting to improve performance and efficiency.
  • Modernization of the dispatch system and procedures.
  • Monthly public reports regarding the 911 call statistics to be made available to the public.
  • A public awareness campaign to notify residents not to hang up because it wastes resources and causes systemic delays. The campaign will also remind residents to avoid using 911 for non-emergency situations.


However, the mayor’s plan isn’t expected to be implemented until 2017, which is when the department’s computer-aided dispatch system will also be updated. In the meantime, the mayor has authorized Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman to allow police officers and city staffers to work overtime as 911 dispatchers.


While these improvements may help alleviate some of the problems in the interim, the city still has a lot to do in order to pinpoint all of the bottlenecks in its system. With a lack of insight into system failures that are not staff-related, it could be some time until the San Diego 911 system delivers on its promises of shorter call wait times. In the meantime, more than one million San Diego residents are still at risk of experiencing 911 system delays.


If believe you or a loved one has been severely harmed due to the failure of your local 911 system, you should speak with a lawyer right away. Send us an email or call Walker Law at (619) 839-9978 to schedule your free consultation.