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Durham 911 Answer Rate Improves Only Slightly

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DURHAM, N.C. — In January, 3 percent of 911 calls went unanswered in Durham. Now it's July, and the city has not recorded much improvement.

Although the city hired more dispatchers to reduce the number of unanswered calls, WRAL learned Thursday that more than 2 percent of all calls still are not getting through.

Annie Reams made the call for help from her East Durham home when outside two cars had just collided.

Reams said she waited and waited, but 911 never picked up.

"I was just wondering why no one was answering," said Reams.

The call came to Durham's Communication Center. The director said it's not uncommon for an emergency call to go unanswered.

"This happens in every center in the country, you can have events when you become overwhelmed," said James Soukup, emergency communications director.

About 1,000 calls come into the Durham 911 center every day; on average, 20 go unanswered. The director said the city has tried to reduce the number of missed calls by adding more staff, but it still needs to hire more workers.

With the current staff, 90 percent of the calls are answered in three rings or fewer.

"We do the best we can, and we do better than most cities across the nation," said Soukup. But for Reams, a Durham taxpayer, that's not good enough.

"If they call 911, they should be able to get somebody," she said.

Durham's goal is to answer every call, but some take a lot longer than others.

"Stay on the line and let the phone ring. We will get to you," said Soukup.

The emergency communications director said more workers have been budgeted for this upcoming year to help reduce the number of missed calls even more.

The city is also investing in new technology to help it cope when it gets flooded with calls.

Callers may have a tough time reaching 911 if they have the new phone providers that use high-speed Internet connections to offer the service, instead of standard phone lines.

But 911 officials said some of the new services do not connect to 911.

The best bet is to check with the provider before signing up.

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