With years of rampant 911 staffing shortages plaguing cities nationwide, it was only a matter of time before the wrong call was left unanswered.
Previously, we’ve covered how understaffed dispatch centers are struggling to keep up with emergency call volume in states such as Ohio, Colorado, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Florida.
As it turns out, the story is the same in Austin, Texas, where only half of the police department’s dispatcher positions are filled, and abandoned calls are at a two-year high.
Horrifically, these issues had fatal consequences for a local woman and her family earlier this year in what can only be described as the worst-case scenario.
15 Minutes of Hell
In May, Austin resident Tanya Gotcher experienced a living nightmare when her husband Casey fell to the ground.
He was having a heart attack, and Gotcher quickly responded by calling 911. But to her dismay, her call was left unanswered for several minutes.
“The phone just ringing, and ringing, and ringing,” she said.
Desperate to help her husband, she began administering CPR as she waited for someone to answer. She also contacted her father-in-law to have him call emergency services in hopes of improving her chance of getting through.
After ten grueling minutes, her father-in-law’s call was finally answered. The only problem was that he lived in a different county.
Once his dispatcher realized this, they had to transfer him to Gotcher’s local service, which took several more minutes.
“It took him 10 minutes, and then the 911 company realized he was in a different county, so they transferred him, and it took another three minutes,” she said.
By the time Gotcher finally got through, she had been on hold for fifteen minutes, and tragically, it was already too late.
Despite her best efforts, her call for help was unsuccessful, and her husband of thirty years passed away right before her eyes.
“When you hear the phone ring for 15 minutes, and you can’t get to anybody to help you, is the worst nightmare that you could have,” she said in a recent interview with the local news.
The Reality of 911 Wait Times in Austin
Calling 911 shouldn’t be a risk. It should be a totally safe and reliable lifeline.
But unfortunately, this isn’t the case in Austin.
Gotcher’s experience is everyone’s worst nightmare…
But the scariest part is that her situation certainly isn’t the first instance of someone being left on hold for far too long.
Shockingly, for the 38,000 Austin residents that called 911 in October, the average amount of time they waited for their calls to be answered was two and a half minutes.
Staffing shortages or not, numbers like these are unacceptable and put residents at risk of experiencing unnecessary loss of life, like Gotcher.
Not to mention, a lack of trust in 911’s responsiveness will leave many feeling unprotected and helpless during emergencies.
Thankfully, however, the city of Austin has responded to this tragedy with a concerted effort to fill empty dispatcher seats.
They’ve increased base pay, added bonuses, and reduced mandatory overtime to prevent dispatcher burnout. So far, the results have been promising.
At a recent city council meeting, Austin’s Police Chief, Joseph Chacon, reported that they’ve had more new hires in the past six weeks than they’ve had all year.
Excellent progress and a solid step in the right direction, but there’s still much work to be done to restore faith in the public emergency response system.
You Don’t Have to Wait When You Call for Help
No one should have to wait for help during an emergency. As we’ve seen today, it can cost lives.
Dispatch centers nationwide are understaffed and underfunded, leaving many Americans vulnerable.
The good news is: there’s a way to get help instantly while avoiding the limits of the 911 system.
It’s called the Rescu app, and it’s the fastest way to get help in an emergency.
Rescu lets you dispatch fire, police, and ambulance services to your pre-registered address with just two taps on your smartphone or Apple Watch—no talking required, and no waiting.
It also features location-based dispatch, so you can send for help anywhere in the US at a moment’s notice.
During your account setup, you’ll add your personal and relevant medical information (for emergency personnel when you send an alert) and as many emergency contacts as you like.
When you send an alert, the app immediately notifies Rescu headquarters—a private, fully-staffed, 5-Diamond UL-Certified dispatch center—which instantly dispatches and sends your information to the nearest first response team.
That way, you’ll never have to worry about your alert going unanswered.
At the same time, Rescu also sends a text message to all your listed emergency contacts, letting them know that you’ve sent an alert.
In just two taps, you’ll have the priceless comfort of knowing that help is on its way—without a shred of doubt.
There’s no telling how Gotcher’s story would have played out if she didn’t have to wait fifteen minutes. But because of 911’s poor response time, there will always be the question of “What if?”
Don’t leave room for what-ifs.
Download the Rescu app today for 24/7 protection you can count on.