St. Louis’ 911 system merging soon to improve hold times, efficiency

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Calling 911 from smart phone

ST. LOUIS– St. Louis officials are in the process of merging the city’s police, fire, and EMS emergency operations into one call center. It is part of a plan that officials hope will reduce hold time for 911 calls and address a dispatcher shortage.

The city says its 911 system falls below the national industry standards which states 90% of calls be answered within 15 seconds and 95% of calls being answered within 20 seconds.

In St. Louis, 64% of the calls were reportedly being answered in less than 10 seconds between February and May.

City officials say the current system is outdated and creates a bottleneck in service. The current system has all calls routed first to the police dispatch even if they are for fire or EMS.

“All calls come through the police department and then are diverted to the Fire Department. And from a technology standpoint, we are still on two different systems. So when we have low personnel and staffing, those structural problems are exacerbated,” said interim Public Safety Director Dr. Dan Isom on St. Louis on the Air.

Isom also said steps are underway to move EMS and fire dispatch operations to the police department’s downtown headquarters to get them on the same technology.

During the radio segment, Isom also said October was a target date for the new system. But he said they want to make sure the change is done right and that means it may take longer. Isom said officials hope that ‘significant movement’ in the next 30 to 60 days.

FOX2 talked to police chief John Hayden last may after a witness to a triple shooting said she was on hold with 911 for more than 5 minutes on three different occasions.

At that time, Hayden explained that officers were at the scene within a few minutes. He said that is within industry standards for those types of incidents.

He also explained 16 people called simultaneously to report the shootings.

Hayden acknowledged the system’s shortfalls and said people should stay on the line until their call is answered.

The police chief also said new software was installed to allow the system to quickly differentiate “priority calls”.

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