With 911 lines jammed, Houston turns to social media for help


CHARLESTON COUNTY, S.C. (WCBD)- Catastrophe hit Texas in the form of Hurricane Harvey. Last Saturday, after the storm hit, Houston’s 911 center received seven times more calls than average in a 24 hour period. It overwhelmed the lines, leaving people desperate for help.

News 2 went to the Charleston County Consolidated 911 Center to investigate how they are prepared to handle a massive influx of calls. 911 says if their call center is backed up and you can’t get through in an emergency, the worst thing you can do is hang up the phone.

Deputy Director, Allyson Burrell, says, “You will get into a queue and it will continue to ring and it may be a long time if we have a heavy call volume, but we will eventually get to your call. If you hang up, and you call back, that just now causes us to tie up a resource to call you back from your initial hangup. And it makes it very difficult for us to get through all those calls in a timely manner.”

In Houston, many people became fed up with the 911 wait times, and turned to social media for help. One woman tweeted: “I have two children with me. The water is swallowing us up. Please send help. 911 is not responding!” Charleston County urges people not to rely on social media in an emergency because there is no guarantee the right agency will see it.

Burrell says, “We do not have anyone who monitors that on a 24/7 basis. It may be several hours before we can do something with that information.”

Some people say they turned to social media because they had poor service, or a dying phone battery. Like one woman who said: “My mom & brother are on the roof, still waiting to be rescued. Her phone is about to die! Please help.” Charleston County says instead of turning to Twitter, opt to text to 911 instead.

Burrell says, “If you don’t have a lot of cellular service in the area that you’re trying to call from, certainly text us and we will be able to send you resources that way.”

And if for some reason 911 lines go out, Charleston County’s back up system has proven to work.

Burrell says, “We did have that problem probably about two years ago where a portion of our 911 calls went down and we were able to utilize the backup system so that we didn’t lose any calls for service.”

Another key piece, only use 911 for emergencies. Experts say this is to save a life, stop a crime, or report a fire, that way the lines are only filled with the highest priority calls.

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