Portsmouth 911 pick ups improving in areas, but still below national minimum

10 On Your Side

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Tonight, we continue our investigation into Portsmouth 911 in Critical Condition.

Through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, we got thousands of emails that we have gone through showing people complaining about slow 911 pick up response.

We spoke to Portsmouth resident Reginald Brown, who was having a stroke in 2017, called 911 on a cellphone and landline, and got no response.

Brown said, “I pick up my cell phone and I am dialing 911 and I am waiting. And it’s ringing and it’s ringing and it’s ringing. And the more it rings the more afraid and a little agitated, I guess, I was getting, but then I was getting more scared because I was thinking if I’m having a stroke and no one is answering, it must be because I’m calling from my cellphone. So then I get my house phone and the same thing and it’s ringing and ringing.”

No 911 dispatcher picked up with Brown’s second call either, so he asked a friend to pick him up from his home and drive him the four miles to Bon Secours Maryview Medical Center.

By the time Brown arrived at the hospital, the left side of his body was paralyzed.

10 On Your Side first reported issues with Portsmouth’s 911 system in May when we obtained data on the number of seconds it took for dispatchers to answer the 94,000 calls that came through their lines in 2018.

That data showed us that during every hour of the day, Portsmouth dispatchers were failing to meet the national standard of picking up 911 calls within 10 seconds. During the busiest hour of the day — 4 p.m. — dispatchers were only successfully answering 65 percent of 911 calls within 10 seconds.

10 On Your Side obtained the same 911 call data for 2019 to date. Since January, 911 dispatchers in Portsmouth have received nearly 38,000 calls — about 40 percent of what they received in all of 2018. The data shows that as of now, dispatchers are answering more calls within 10 seconds from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. in Portsmouth — but aren’t showing great improvement in the late-night and early-morning hours of the day.

And Portsmouth dispatchers still aren’t answering 911 calls within 10 seconds often enough at any point in the day to meet the minimum standard of 90 percent, the data shows.

“Always concerned when they are not at the minimal standard,” said Portsmouth City Councilman Bill Moody. “That means calls coming in are not being answered in a timely fashion. But I am encouraged by the trend.”

“They are trending in the right direction,” Moody added. “Good progress has been made.”

10 On Your Side also discovered that the non-emergency 311 system, which City Manager Lydia Pettis-Patton told City Council would be live by the end of May, isn’t scheduled to be in use until the end of June. The 311 system will aim to alleviate 911 dispatchers by giving citizens a resource to call when they aren’t in the middle of an emergency but still need guidance or help, according to city spokeswoman Dana Woodson.

“The Call Center will be staffed with full and part-time employees to ensure coverage and respond effectively to inquires,” Woodson wrote in an email.

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