Troubleshooters: Metrosafe staffing puts some 911 callers on hold

911 calls from the Old National Bank mass shooting as well as tips to our own hotline highlighted callers getting put on hold trying to get help in an emergency
Published: Oct. 10, 2023 at 4:54 PM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - Tuesday marks six months since the the mass shooting at Old National Bank in downtown Louisville.

Now, Louisville plans to hire a contractor to review its emergency response that day.

The WAVE News Troubleshooters began looking at 911 calls getting put on hold, not only that day, but others.

Two of the calls the city released from Old National Bank, and our own hotline, had people reporting they called 911 and got a hold message.

“Oh my God there’s an active shooter there,” screamed one 911 caller on April 10th, having seen the shooting on her video conference call.

During the panic at Old National Bank six months ago, two 911 calls stood out. One for the caller’s anger.

“We don’t, ok stop yelling sir we already have someone on the way, yeah because you don’t f------ answer,” shouted the caller.

The other for a caller’s confusion.

“I kept calling 911 but it kept sending me to your voicemail, I guess,” said the caller.

Both were connected by a similar experience, being put on hold calling for help.

“Call volumes can go from typically 50 per hour all the way up to 2,000 calls per hour,” said April Heinze with the NENA 911 Association.

Metrosafe records show 911 handled 201 calls between 8:20 and 9:00 that morning and 27 of those calls were abandoned after getting put on hold. Police were called to Old National Bank at 8:38 a.m. Between 8:38 and 8:39, four callers spent over a minute holding.

“You have reached 911. Please do not hang up it will only delay your call. An operator will be with you shortly,” intoned Metrosafe’s hold line.

“Ten seconds or less is what our goal is, 90% of the time, there’s days that we meet that. There’s days that we don’t meet that,” Metro Emergency Services Executive Director Jody Meiman said.

The city won’t release the maximum call volume it can handle for security reasons, but part of the reason 911 gets backlogged is staffing. Meiman said they have the money for more dispatchers, but they need people to apply.

“We still keep the same number of people on the floor to our minimums of what we’re supposed to have, so even though we’re short staffed, we have mandatory overtime that we have to force people sometimes to work over,” Meiman said.

Metrosafe said it has more than 40 vacancies for call takers and dispatchers. More people will help when 911 gets busy, but Heinze cautions major emergencies will backlog any 911 center.

“That staff can only process so many calls at a time, and when the call volume increases exponentially like that, people are just going to have to learn some patience,” Heinze said.

If you call 911 and you get the hold message don’t hang up.

It goes against all your instincts, but when you call back you’re at the bottom of the list again.

And your original call still registers with the system, forcing the 911 center to call the number back.

That increases the total number of calls they need to handle.