National standards don’t require 911 to answer all calls - WJBF-TV ABC 6 Augusta-Aiken

National standards don’t require 911 to answer all calls

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National standards, created by multiple agencies, don't require 911 centers to answer 100% of phone calls.

According to documents provided from Charleston County show that the Consolidated 911 Center uses standards from the state of South Carolina, the National Emergency Number Association (NENA) and the National Fire Protection Association.

According to officials from NENA, the standards they create are more like goals centers should try to reach instead of regulations.

Charleston County 911 Center Statistics

"We recognize that every 911 phone call is very important, and we want to try to get to the point where can answer every one of them," Vice President of Operations Ty Wooten said. "Everyone has to understand the reality is that sometimes we can't get to them all."

The Charleston County Consolidated 911 Center uses two standards from NENA.  The first requires the center to answer 90% of emergency calls during their busiest hour.  From 2008 to 2012, the center did not meet this standard, according to documents. The center is, however, on track to meet that standard this year with 90.8% of calls answered. 

The second standard NENA creates for the county is to answer 95% of emergency calls within 20 seconds.  Documents provide numbers of that statistic for 2012 and for the first part of 2013. For both of those years, the center met that standard.

Documents show that there are other standards that the center did not meet from 2008 to 2012, but the center is on target to meet those standards this year as well.  Even if they missed the mark this year, the Charleston County 911 Center can't be held responsible for failing to reach those standards.

"[NENA] is not a regulatory body. We can only provide these best practices for 911 Centers to utilize to try and attain the best quality of service and level of standard care for the people they serve," Wooten said.

One of the biggest problems 911 Centers, like the one in Charleston, have is when callers hang up before their call is answered .

"When you call 911, you stay on the line until the call taker answers the call so that you can get the best service you need and you don't take resources away from others who are trying to do the same,"  Wooten said.

If a caller disconnects from the center before someone answers the phone, the center is required to call that person back. So, if that person calls back again, two call takers are then tied up returning the original call and answering the new call.

Another issue for 911 Centers is handling calls that come in from people witnessing, for example, a car accident. The center is then tied up answering dozens of those calls, so some may be missed. The Charleston County Consolidated 911 Center says to call 911 to save a life, stop a crime or report a fire.  Official say if a caller does not know whether they have an emergency that can be handled by 911 to call anyway, so call takers can best direct the concern.

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