Portland 911 system 'broken' as some callers wait more than 5 minutes for a response

The expected wait time for a 911 call is supposed to be somewhere around 15-20 seconds. In Portland, the current average is close to a full minute. Because that’s an average it means some unlucky residents are waiting quite a bit longer.

The bureau tracks average 911 call answer times by month to gauge its track record. The data shows an average hold time of a minute. But it also shows a dramatic increase of 911 calls on hold for two minutes or longer starting in late spring and summer.

Another striking jump of calls on hold for more than five minutes occurred in May and July, according to bureau figures released to the newsroom.

Compared to March, when only eight 911 calls took more than five minutes to answer, that number increased to 221 in May and more than doubled to 574 in July.

Here’s a chart showing the wait times. In July, you can see there were the aforementioned 574 calls that took longer than five minutes but there were thousands of calls that took longer than two minutes. That’s a long time to sit on hold if you or someone you love has been shot or is being attacked.

Why is this happening? There are two reasons. First, with the rise of shootings and other crimes, the number of 911 calls being placed each month is up sharply compared to last year, between 20% and 45%. Second, the Portland Bureau of Emergency Communications which handles the calls is understaffed. It’s supposed to have a staff of 128 dispatchers but currently only has 106:

[Dept. Director Bob] Cozzie said more than a dozen employees have retired, taken leaves of absence, been promoted or resigned over the past six months.

Current staff also are still in training on new medical and fire triage protocols that are intended to cut down on the number of fire trucks sent to low-level medical calls, he said.

“We’re at a tipping point now. It’s become unmanageable,” he said. “The system is broken.”

The same department that handles 911 calls also handles non-emergency calls and the wait times on those calls can be much longer. One resident told the Oregonian he waited 15 minutes on hold so he could report a burglar breaking into a car in front of his shop.

The article never really mentions the fact that Portland has lost a lot of police officers and has struggled to fill empty positions. That decline of morale and staffing, which is undoubtedly connected to the defund the police efforts last year, has probably played a role in the rise of crime in the city. That spike in crime then results in an increase in 911 calls.

Again, the Oregonian article doesn’t explore these connections but if you know what has been going on in Portland for the past year, you can kind of see how all of the problems are compounding on one another at this point.

Hopefully, Portland can pull its act together at some point but I honestly don’t think it’s going to happen so long as you have city leaders more focused on sending messages about their disapproval of Texas’ abortion policy than they are on fixing their own problems.