California Highway Patrol dispatchers took longer in January to answer 911 calls, with centers that handle nearly two-thirds of the state’s cell phone traffic failing to meet minimum national standards for getting to a call within 10 seconds, reports the Sacramento Bee. Nearly 20 percent of the Sacramento dispatch center’s calls went unanswered for more than 10 seconds. National standards say dispatchers should answer 90 percent of their calls within that time. Officials say the sudden drop-off in service is the result of eliminating a screening system at busier dispatch centers. More accidental 911 calls – made by people inadvertently hitting a pre-programmed button on their cell phones – are getting through, meaning dispatchers have more calls to answer.
Some experts fear that the situation will continue to deteriorate. The source of the added concern is Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s state employee furlough plan. It went into effect in February, calling for most state employees, including dispatchers, to take two days off without pay each month through June 2010. “If they’re furloughing dispatchers, that’s crazy,” said Charles Cullen, outgoing president of the California chapter of the National Emergency Number Association and director of technical services for the Palo Alto Police Department. “You’re lessening crucial services to the public. It doesn’t make any sense at all, particularly in a system that is already overburdened.”