The warnings about Cincinnati’s 911 system over the past few years have sounded almost as dire as the urgent calls emergency operators receive every day, reports the Cincinnati Enquirer. “It is a recipe for disaster.” “Disorganized and inconsistent.” “Bordered on dysfunctional.” “Playing Russian roulette with people’s lives.” Those descriptions of the city’s emergency communications system came from top city officials and others who have struggled for years to fix a connection that citizens count on during life-and-death emergencies. It’s a system that many of those same officials say failed this week when high school student Kyle Plush spent 5 minutes and 38 seconds on the phone with two different 911 operators, begging for help as he was being crushed to death in his van in a parking lot.
“In the second 911 call, something has gone terribly wrong,” Cincinnati Police Chief Eliot Isaac said on Thursday. “This young man was crying out for help and we were not able to get information to officers on the scene.” As chief, he oversees the 911 center. In the past two years, concerns about the 911 center have been outlined in memos, reports and emails describing a system burdened by poor management, a lack of training, long work hours, unfilled jobs and technical problems. Employees have accused managers of mistreating them and ignoring their warnings. Managers have complained about inadequate budgets and high turnover. Callers in need of help have encountered technical problems, including systemwide blackouts that prevented them from reaching an operator. “This tragedy may ultimately suggest the problems have not been resolved or that not enough changes have been made,” Mayor John Cranley said. “We owe the Plush family and the public a detailed and comprehensive explanation.”