Chas Co. Dispatch not required to answer all 911 calls - WCBD-TV: News, Weather, and Sports for Charleston, SC

Chas Co. Dispatch not required to answer all 911 calls

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Shuler's call log that shows how long each 911 phone call lasted. Shuler's call log that shows how long each 911 phone call lasted.

A News 2 Investigation has uncovered that Charleston County Dispatch is not required to answer all 911 phone calls.

Last Saturday morning, Mt. Pleasant resident Lauren Shuler called 911 after seeing a suspicious man run through her yard. Shuler said she was worried about the man because a neighbor's house was recently robbed.

But, when she first called 911, the phone rang for 33 seconds with no answer, according to Shuler. The second call lasted 45 seconds and still no one answered the phone. It wasn't until the third call that Shuler got this response:

"Ma'am, we're extremely busy right now, I'm sorry," a Dispatch operator said.

Shuler became visibly upset during the phone call saying, "What if I had been stabbed in the throat or something?"

James Lake, Director of the Charleston County Consolidated 9-1-1 Center, said 21 people were working that night. However, five were actually responsible answering the phones. Those five workers were busy handling five emergencies.

"Others were actually operating as dispatchers and working the radios as well," Lake said.

According to documents obtained by News 2, the dispatch center's busiest days are Friday and Saturday. Despite the busy time, Lake said they don't staff extra workers on those busiest days because it is hard to see into the future.

"It's a problem anytime a call is not answered," he said. "However there is no way to staff or to prepare for the number of calls we might receive."

The Director said his 9-1-1 center is exceeding state and national standards. He said those standards don't require a center to answer every call that comes in.

"When someone calls 9-1-1, someone should answer the phone," Lake said. It didn't [happen] this time, and we don't all the time," he said.

Lake went on to say that they miss calls every day and will continue to do so.

Shuler said being too busy for her call is not an excuse.

"The one entity on this planet that I don't feel like 'I'm sorry we're too busy right now' should be an acceptable answer is 9-1-1," she said.

Lake said when Shuler called, the center attempted to call her back five times. Shuler's phone records do not show these missed calls. The county said the missed calls did not show up because when she dialed 9-1-1, Shuler's phone went into Emergency Mode. Any incoming calls are automatically forwarded to voicemail without the caller's input while in this mode. So, those calls would not have appeared in her call log.

Lake said that, if someone calls the center and doesn't get an answer, they should stay on the line and not hang-up. If they do hang-up the call, it creates a backlog for the center.

He said that Shuler should have stayed on the line longer.

"Her phone call would have been answered in approximately 20 seconds more, although it is a long time to be on the line to be calling 911, the call would have been answered and the response would have been quicker," Lake said.

News 2 pushed Lake to see if there were going to be any changes made to the staffing level because of this, he said the staffing is fine.

"No, we won't be going back to adjust it," Lake said. "We are staffed accordingly due to call data history."

According to the National Fire Protection Association, the Dispatch center is expected to answer 99 percent of calls within 40 seconds. Documents show that the center fell just short of that standard last year, answering 98.5% of calls.

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