I-Team questions lead to change to prevent 911 call delays

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CLEVELAND-- A FOX 8 I-TEAM investigation has sparked changes in procedures that could lead to some 911 calls being handled faster in Cleveland.

We started asking questions recently after gunfire on Cleveland’s east side hit a baby in a car. The infant’s grandmother had to wait nearly a minute and a half to talk to an EMS dispatcher. Now after our questions, the city is taking new steps to prevent those kinds of delays.

Assistant Safety Director Tim Hennessey says a new Cleveland dispatch center has new software. Now bosses will monitor the number of calls coming in or getting backlogged. Those supervisors can step in to help or shuffle staff. And eventually, the call backlog will also be put on a big screen so that all dispatchers can see that and then try to get to more people more quickly.

Hennessey said, “It’s helping us. Under the old system, we really didn’t know how many calls were in the queue. We didn’t know how many calls were out there. The new software…allows us to track the number of calls, the time they’re in the queue.”

Until now, all 911 calls made from cell phones in Cuyahoga County went to county dispatchers. Then those calls were transferred to city dispatchers. But Cleveland has been preparing to answer all 911 calls by November 1. Another step toward eliminating delays.

Nothing may have saved that baby. Little Avielle Wakefield died. But her grandmother, Beatrice Wakefield,  told the I-TEAM, “At last, they’re gonna do something. It’ll help somebody in the future….although it won’t be on our behalf.”

This week another woman waited 43 seconds for a Cleveland dispatcher after a four-year-old got shot and wounded. So there’s still a need to get to calls more quickly.

The city says its goal is to answer 911 calls within 15 to 40 seconds at the most. And the city is in the process of hiring more dispatchers. The I-TEAM has previously reported on the impact of staffing shortages in the dispatch center.