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A Hummel Report Investigation

Holding Pattern

Rhode Island’s 911 system was created in 1988 to give people a way to get help quickly and easily in an emergency. But the agency has seen continual decreases in manpower over the past decade, resulting in more than 16,000 callers put on hold in 2014 - up  25 percent in four years. We found a surcharge on everyone’s cell phone and landline that generates millions of dollars originally earmarked for the agency isn’t going to 911. Jim Hummel explains where the money is going.

Click here to watch our 2011 report on the 911 system.


``911. Is your emergency police, fire or medical?’’
Fifteen hundred times a day on average 911 operators ask that question, on the front lines of a response when there is an emergency in Rhode Island. More than half a million calls last year came here to the statewide E-911 center housed in the State Police headquarters complex in Scituate - then routed to the appropriate local agency.
It’s a high-stress job where seconds matter - literally, especially if somebody is having a heart attack, or a burglar is breaking into a house.
O’Donnell: ``Employees matter. You have to answer that phone.’’
Rhode Island State Police Col. Steven O’Donnell  also oversees the state Department of Public Safety and the E-911 system.
But 911, which every cell phone and landline owner helps funds through a monthly surcharge, has seen a steady decrease in manpower since it was established in 1988. At the same time the number of calls put on hold has increased 25 percent the past four years.
The Hummel Report first looked at the issue in 2011, discovering that 13,000 calls that year went into queue - the agency’s term for put on hold. Some for as a little as two seconds, the longest two minutes and the average just under 12 seconds.
Twelve seconds may not seem like a lot but during an emergency....
`You've reached 911 - please stay on the line.''
And we profiled a local restaurant owner who couldn’t get through to 911 when one of her customers fell and hit her head. She gave up and dialed the Smithfield Police Department directly - like we all did before 911.
Belknap: ``I said I don't know what's going on, but thank God I didn't have an armed gunman in here shooting someone and I only had one phone call and it was to 911 and no one answered.''
The situation has gotten worse.
Last year more than 16,000 calls were put on hold - that’s an average of 45 a day and up more than 3,000 calls from four years ago.

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