PORTLAND, Ore. — An investigator has found that Portland’s 911 center has been knowingly reporting shorter wait times for people calling to get help.
Ombudsman Margie Sollinger released her findings Wednesday, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported (http://bit.ly/2rMmPdZ ). Sollinger found that more than 99 percent of calls to Portland 911 are reported to overseers and the public as being answered within 20 seconds, when in fact, many cellphone calls took much longer.
Bureau of Emergency Communications officials knew about the problem as early as November 2015, when Lisa St. Helen, then operating manager and current acting bureau director, notified former bureau director Lisa Turley and former 911 Commissioner Steve Novick’s policy director of the problem.
St. Helen wrote that the 911 center’s hold time data had been inaccurate since 2004, when the bureau implemented a flawed system designed to screen out accidental cellphone calls.
“What this means is that all call hold times reported at any time in the past as they related to cellphone calls has been incorrect,” St. Helen wrote in 2015. “Clearly this is an issue.”
The system sends 911 callers to an automated voice prompting them to make a noise or push a key in order to indicate it is not an accidental “pocket dial.” The problem is the system doesn’t measure hold times until calls are sent to a dispatcher, sometimes after minutes on hold, Sollinger found.
Despite knowing this, bureau officials continued to report inaccurate hold time data to the Portland City Council and the public as recently as a March budget session.
“It’s absolutely cause for concern,” St. Helen said. “I’m trying to get a handle on everything that’s happened in the past. There is nobody that is standing up louder that wants this fixed than I am.”
Turley retired in March. She said she does not remember whether or not she reported accurate data to the City Council in the March budget session.
“It is not my data system. I have to rely on them to let me know what is working and let me know what is not working,” Turley said. “I’m doing everything I can to forget my time at the city of Portland and (the emergency communications bureau) so I have no recollection.”
Information from: The Oregonian/OregonLive, http://www.oregonlive.com