For years, some callers to Multnomah County’s 911 system have faced what seemed like excruciatingly long delays as they’ve waited to get a live voice on the line, says The Oregonian. Most callers wait fewer than 20 seconds, but every day at least one person waits two to three minutes. That soon could change. Next week, 911 operators will abandon their old motto of “one call at a time and move on” –a practice that has operators completing the call they’re on before answering the next, even if the current call isn’t an emergency and new calls are stacking up.
Operators will start juggling calls, putting callers who aren’t reporting a life-threatening emergency on hold to free operators to screen the next call. Portland City Commissioner Randy Leonard hopes the new policy will eliminate delays that he says are unacceptable. “You cut off calls in the middle of a sentence if you have to,” said Leonard, announcing the new directive yesterday. The problem came to a head in June after an off-duty firefighter waited 1 minute and 44 seconds before he could report a house fire. With his cell phone clamped to his ear, the firefighter crawled through the smoke-filled home searching for survivors.