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Atlanta mayor pushes for more funding to improve 911 call center, after CBS46 investigation

A CBS46 investigation uncovered a rise in wait times for 911 callers. In 2020, roughly 5% of Atlanta’s 911 callers were waiting on hold for more than 40 seconds.
Published: May. 17, 2022 at 11:24 AM EDT
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ATLANTA, Ga. (CBS46) -- Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens is pushing for more funding to improve the E-911 Call Center in Atlanta, by way of a public facilities bond measure.

This comes less than a week after a CBS46 investigation uncovered that thousands of Atlanta’s 911 callers were waiting on hold when they called 911.

3,000 calls go through the city’s 911 call center each day. That’s 1.2 million calls a year. Right now, their phone systems do not separate 911 calls from non-emergency calls.

“We’re looking to upgrade the phone system so that we can differentiate the two, so we’ll have 911 calls going into one queue and non-emergency calls going into another queue,” Atlanta’s E-911 Director, Desiree Arnold said.

“Before a fire engine rolls out, before an officer pulls up, that first point of contact with the public occurs right here in this system that we have here with these dedicated men and women,” Mayor Andre Dickens added.

But not all calls are answered right away. CBS46 Investigates uncovered a rise in wait times for 911 callers. In 2020, roughly 5% of Atlanta’s 911 callers waited on hold for more than 40 seconds. In 2021, that number grew to 9% and in the first four months of 2022, that number jumped to nearly 13%.

The majority of Atlanta’s 911 callers do not wait on hold for more than 10 seconds. In the first four months of 2022, roughly 75% of Atlanta’s 911 callers or 245,855 people called 911 and waited less than 10 seconds to talk to an actual person.

“The last thing I want is someone in an emergency to go to a system that’s not responsive,” Mayor Dickens said.

That’s why the mayor wants more money going into the call center, by way of an infrastructure ballot measures package.

“We’re going to put $15 million into modernizing our 911 infrastructure, improving our servers, and our technology,” Mayor Dickens explained.

How would the improvements help? A big factor affecting wait times is staffing.

“If you want to help us resolve the issues, come be a part of the team,” Arnold told CBS46 investigative reporter, Rachel Polansky, last week. “Along with everyone else, we’re experiencing staffing shortages. It’s a nationwide issue. We’re not immune to it. We are working to hire. We have conducted job fairs. We’re actively and continuously recruiting.”

While the bond won’t pay for more employees, it would improve their working conditions with reliable technology.

Staffing is not the only factor impacting wait times. Through public records, CBS46 Investigates found that three power outages have taken place at the Atlanta E-911 Center since November. Two took place in November and one took place in February. After the February incident, a city worker recommended the city buy a new power supply because the old one was “20 years old and at end of life.”

► READ | Details on recent incidents at Atlanta’s E-911 Center

Also in February, the chiller went down resulting in AC failure and 911 on-site dismissal.

“Part of what we’re doing with the staffing issue is doing a good job of recruiting, but also building up the system so workers find that we see value in them,” Mayor Dickens said.

The decision to invest more money into Atlanta’s 911 call center will be left to the voters when they head to the polls this coming Tuesday, May 24.

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