I-TEAM: Hang-ups, busy signals and technical issues plague Pasco County 911

Commission approves equipment and supervisor

When you call 911, you expect a trained expert on the other end of the line to help you during a time of crisis.
 
But in Pasco County, some callers have been getting busy signals, hang-ups and transfers to other numbers without an answer.
 
The first troubling call came in January, after a man was shot in a movie theater by another patron.
 
The 911 dispatcher tried to transfer the call to the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office, but it can be heard on the recording ringing 19 times for a total of one minute and 42 seconds before anyone from the Sheriff’s Office picks up.
 
In the meantime, panicked witnesses can be heard attempting to do CPR on the man who was shot.
 
The next troubling call to come to light was in June, when a Port Richey man called to report his family was being attacked by armed intruders.
 
“I am going get you on the line with law enforcement. I don't want you to hang up,” the dispatcher says, just before hanging up the phone on him.
 
When the victim was reached on the line again, the dispatcher tried unsuccessfully to transfer the call three times before it eventually reached a recorded message.
 
Gunshots could be heard in the background as the recorded line says, “If this is an emergency,  hang up and dial 911.”
 
Then the I-Team learned about another instance of problems with 911 calls.
 
“I tried to call 911 about four times and no one answered. It just kept ringing busy,” said Brittney Miglino.
 
She called Pasco 911 in May to report a car fire but no one answered.
 
“I expect somebody to answer immediately and to help me and ask me what's wrong. Tell me someone will be on their way,” she said.
 
An email from a 911 supervisor obtained by the I-Team shows there were multiple problems that night at the 911 center.
 
While every line was ringing, dispatchers who weren't completely trained couldn't log on to work stations because of technical issues.
 
“We already knew there were seven calls coming right from that area,” said Pasco County spokesman Doug Tobin.
 
He said that despite the mix-ups, help was sent immediately in all three cases we described.
 
“The service as far as the response was concerned was right on the money. Could we have done a better job on these calls? Absolutely,” Tobin said.
 
Tobin said most of the problems are the result of a merger last October of the county's law enforcement and emergency medical dispatch systems.
 
The I-Team has learned the county is now responding to the issues, funding new equipment to assist dispatchers with calls, which should arrive in about six months.
 
The county has also hired a new quality control supervisor for 911 who will begin reviewing calls in October, when all dispatchers are expected to be fully cross-trained.
 
“There's always gonna be those calls that fall through the cracks and we're trying to do what we can to prevent that from happening in the future,” Tobin said.
 
“911 shouldn't have those problems. They're for emergencies,” said Miglino.
 
Pasco County says that even with the issues, it exceeds the national standard in answering 911 calls.
 
Of the 200,000 calls received since Oct. 1, 99 percent have been answered in 20 seconds or less.
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