Good news: wait times drop for cellphone 911 calls in California [Telecom]

Wait times drop for cellphone 911 calls in California By Rich Connell, Los Angeles Times November 28, 2010

After years of call centers not being able to keep up with emergency calls from wireless phones, the number of such calls not getting through fell to just 5% so far this year.

Millions of California cellphone users are no longer getting busy messages, experiencing unconnected calls or being put on hold for extended periods when they dial 911.

The number of wireless emergency calls reaching busy operators or failing to go through for various reasons dropped from 4.9 million or

42% of calls in 2007 to just 470,000 or 5% so far this year, according to the state's Public Safety Communications Division. The improvement came even as cellphone 911 call volumes continued growing steadily.

In addition, the California Highway Patrol, by far the largest recipient of emergency cellphone calls, has significantly reduced the time that callers wait for someone to answer.

The new data represent a turnaround for a system that struggled for years to adapt as wireless devices rapidly proliferated, becoming the public's primary link to police and fire rescuers.

When mobile phones were relatively rare, bulky contraptions installed chiefly in cars, all 911 wireless calls were sent to the CHP. By the late 1990s, as smaller, cheaper cellphones became ubiquitous, CHP call centers were being overwhelmed.

Callers often had to wait several minutes to reach an operator, only to then be quizzed and transferred to the nearest public safety dispatch center. The delays added crucial minutes to emergency response times.

The state reacted several years ago with a push to reroute many wireless calls, which now eclipse land-line emergency calls 2 to 1, directly to local police and fire agencies. State grants helped equip local dispatchers to handle their jurisdiction's mobile calls.

Local dispatch centers now take 60% of wireless calls directly.

"We've really had some success in moving wireless calls" to public safety agencies best prepared to handle them, said Karen Wong, who heads the state division overseeing 911 programs.

Last year, about 17 million wireless 911 calls were made in the state, a 28% increase from 2007. Land-line emergency calls decreased 20% to

8.2 million over the same period.

Emergency call hold times at the CHP also have improved. In 2007, The Times reported that about half of the CHP's call centers failed to meet state standards of 90% of 911 calls being answered in 10 seconds or less. Many were averaging delays of four times that or more, with some waits of 20 minutes or longer.

Over the last three months, all 25 of the centers exceeded the quick-answer standard, records show. Statewide this year, the agency has answered 94% or more of its emergency calls within 10 seconds.

A combination of increased staffing, more efficient operator scheduling and more refined call-routing procedures contributed to the improvement, said CHP Chief Reginald Chappelle, who oversees the 911 program.

"With these types of numbers, [callers] are going to hit some level of assurance that, no matter who they call, it will be answered in three rings or less," he said.

The added burden of cell calls initially strained some local 911 call centers, including the city of Los Angeles. But generally, officials say they have adjusted and are serving the public better.

In 2008, Long Beach became one of the last large cities in the state to accept emergency cellphone calls directly. Officials were concerned about residents and visitors being routed through the CHP, but they feared that an influx of cell calls could swamp city dispatchers and delay emergency response times.

"The initial switch was a bit of a task," said Lt. Ken Rosenthal, who supervises the city's emergency call center. "But that's long since gone. We're doing fine."

Getting calls directly is a significant benefit, he said. On a "medical rescue or a crime in progress," he said, "obviously, seconds" can make a difference.

Reply to
Thad Floryan
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ummm, it ain't "state grants", except in a very broad sense. Telephone users (landline and cellular) pay hefty "911" and "e-911" surcharges (taxes) which are supposed to be directly designated for these PSAPs (911 centers) and their associated infrastructure.

Oh, and while I can't give a specific cite for Caifornia, it's pretty common for the periodic State Comptroller audits to find that only a small fraction of these dedicated funds go where they're supposed to. Quite a bit gets siphoned off to the general budget...

(PSAP = Public Safety Answering Position)

Reply to
danny burstein

This article failed to mention the most critical aspect of wireless 911; that is, it just doesn't have the robustness and safegaurds of wireline E911.

If you're out and about, fine, you have few options these days other than wireless 911 (although I have the emergency directory number programmed into my cell phone for my local area as well as two vacation areas I frequent.)

What needs to be explained far better to the consumer are the features of wireline E911 that are not present when using a wireless device in place of a wireline phone within the person's residence.

A lady friend told me they are beginning to educate consumers about the differences between wireline E911 and wireless 911 at safety seminars in some states.

The big differences:

  1. Wireline E911 seizes the line until the E911 operator releases it.

  1. The wireline phone can be disconnected, have its wire cut, etc, yet the E911 operator has your exact address trapped.

  2. Grade of service: is far better with wireline than wireless; i.e., getting connected in the first instance.

  1. Wireless is a radio, not a telephone, and unless the reception is adequate the contection to the PSTN will not be made.

Bottom line, I don't need to speak to the Highway Patrol when some criminal is coming at me with a knife in my home.

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