By Kati Weis

DENVER (CBS4) – A Denver woman says she witnesses an attack in the Capitol Hill neighborhood Sunday night, but couldn’t get through to a real person when she called 911 for help. CBS4 Investigates has learned this incident wasn’t just a one-off, but in fact, over the last three years, Denver 911 has consistently been below the national standard for 911 calls answered in a timely fashion.

(credit: CBS)

The National Fire Protection Agency standard is for 95% of emergency calls to be answered in 15 seconds, and 99% of emergency calls to be answered in 40 seconds.

Denver 911 says in 2018, 92.37% of calls were answered in 15 seconds and 97.12% of calls were answered in 40 seconds. In 2019, Denver 911 says 92.43% of emergency calls were answered in 15 seconds and 97.48% of calls were answered in 40 seconds. Additionally, so far in 2020, 92% of calls have been answered in 15 seconds and 96.41% of calls have been answered in 40 seconds, according to Denver 911.

That means, according to Denver 911, in 2018, there were were 16,599 calls that took 40 seconds or more to be answered. In 2019, there was some improvement. There were 13,670 calls that were answered after 40 seconds or more. So far in 2020, there have been 8,762 calls that were answered after 40 seconds or more.

CBS4 Investigates also found in 2018, 69,871 emergency calls were not answered immediately. In 2019, 54,887 calls were not answered immediately. So far in 2020, 22,433 were not answered immediately.

While there were tens of thousands of emergency calls put on hold over the last three years, the amount of calls having to wait longer than a minute or two minutes was relatively small. In May 2019, there were 452 calls that were answered between one minute to two minutes, and 177 calls answered after more than two minutes on hold. In May 2020, Denver 911 improved. There were 126 calls answered between one to two minutes on hold, and there were only 7 calls answered after being on hold for more than two minutes.

However in June 2019, 21 calls were answered after more than two minutes on hold, and in June 2020, 66 calls were answered after more than two minutes on hold.

Regardless, for anyone in the midst of an emergency, every second counts, and the data shows there have been thousands of people in the city over the last few years who have had to wait at least 40 seconds or more for help.

Alexis DeJulio says she’s worried that there’s even a hold system at all with Denver 911.

“Makes me nervous, because what could be happening next time?” DeJulio said. “I think it’s important to know that someone’s going to be there to help us out if we need it.”

While DeJulio was eating dinner near Governor’s Park Sunday night, she witnessed a homeless man attack a woman across the street. She immediately tried to call 911 for help, but she says she was on hold for more than a minute. Denver 911 confirms she was on hold for a minute and 27 seconds before she hung up.

DeJulio says she tried to call back a couple more times, but kept getting an automated hold message instead of a real person.

“Then I got a call back from a generic Denver number, it was another automated system, basically stating press one if you have an emergency, press two if it’s a nonemergency, and press three if your 911 call was an accident,” she explained. “I pressed one and was automated back to that first system, saying that all of the dispatchers were busy, so I hung up, because I was pretty frustrated at that point.”

This isn’t a new problem. In 2017, CBS4 Investigates reported that due to low staffing and out-of-date technology, many people calling 911 were waiting on hold for more than two minutes.

Denver 911 says while staffing has gotten better over the years, it has been tough for staffing levels to keep up with the increasing number of high call volumes, due to population growth. Right now, Denver 911 is down 10 positions, and city furloughs are playing a part in low staffing, as well.

Denver 911 also says with everyone now having a cell phone, there are usually multiple for calls for the same incident, which adds to call volumes.

In Sunday night’s case, Denver 911 says there were eight calls related to the assault near Governor’s Park.

In any case, Denver 911 says it’s critical that if you are put on hold when calling 911, that you do not hang up. Otherwise, the 911 call taker will have to take the time to try to call you back, which wastes time for both parties involved.

Kati Weis

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