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Slow 911 Responses Unacceptable, Durham Town Manager Says

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DURHAM, N.C. — When Karl Whitney heard a car accident near his home, right away, he called 911 for help.

"I tried calling several times," Whitney said. "I let the phone ring 10 to 20 times and never got through."

The next day, Whitney followed up. He said a dispatcher told him "they've been busy."

"They said, if it's a real emergency, you should just let it ring," Whitney said. "That's not a solution. It's not acceptable."

Whitney is not the only one concerned. On one Durham neighborhood's listserv, one subscriber complains that he waited three minutes for a dispatcher to take the call.

Another subscriber says she tried to report a possible break-in in progress, but hung up after 45 to 50 rings. In her listserv posting, she goes onto say: "If you're planning to be robbed, call 911 15 minutes ahead so they'll show up."

Durham City Manager Patrick Baker says his staff is investigating the complaints and admits it is not acceptable.

"Is it acceptable? No. But, we're trying to make sure we don't have issues like this or that it happens as few times as possible," Baker said.

Out of approximately 1,000 phone emergency calls the center gets each day, Baker says that about 90 percent of them are answered within three rings, which is above national average. He admits, however, that dispatchers need to work on the other 10 percent.

"It appears the 911 center hasn't been staffed at a level it needs to be staffed," Baker said.

Jim Soukup, Durham's 911 director, says one way to alleviate part of the problem is for people not to call 911 with non-emergency questions or problems.

A growing population is also part of the problem. So is money. Last year, the 911 director requested 16 new dispatchers -- but only received funding for four.

Baker insists that the city is already looking at adding even more positions next year and says the city has a 2-3 year plan to improve the 911 center.

The first phase was completed this year with a $2.7 million system upgrade and center renovation Baker says it will be followed by adding more dispatchers.


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