Luzerne County 911 callers will now hear a message urging them to remain on the line if a dispatcher doesn’t pick up after four rings.
A recent citizen complaint about unanswered calls prompted county officials to add the message on Monday.
“At least callers will hear something alerting them that dispatchers are busy instead of the phone just ringing,” said interim 911 Executive Director Fred Rosencrans.
The county also is exploring an alert that would tell 911 callers how many unprocessed calls are ahead of them if all dispatchers are busy, county Council Chairman Tim McGinley said in an email to council.
However, Rosencrans said this option will require further discussion because it might cost money and could discourage callers from staying on the line if they believe the number of people ahead of them is too high, even though their call could be answered in seconds.
The message alert added Monday was provided at no additional cost by the phone provider, Rosencrans said.
The citizen complaint came from Councilman Edward Brominski, who provided the name and phone number of a Kingston woman who said 911 failed to answer several phone calls.
McGinley told council records show the woman called 911 at 3:30 p.m. July 25 and hung up when nobody answered after 50 seconds. She called back five seconds later and hung up after 25 seconds. The 911 dispatcher called back within 30 seconds and spoke to the caller.
The 911 phone system sends waiting calls to dispatchers in the order they come in as dispatchers are freed up, which means callers go to the back of the line when they hang up and call back, Rosencrans said. “Hanging up doesn’t get callers in quicker. It actually makes them lose their spot,” he said.
The 911 center was fully staffed but received a “very unusual” quantity of 15 calls in a two-minute period when the Kingston woman called, he said. Most of the callers were reporting an overturned vehicle on state Route 309 in the Back Mountain.
The Kingston woman, who declined to be interviewed and named for a news article, was reporting a minor vehicle accident, Rosencrans said. “I talked to her, and she was pleased with my response,” he said.
Rosencrans said statistics show the county’s 911 center exceeds the national standard of answering 90 percent of calls within 10 seconds.
The county met that 10-second threshold on 98.6 percent of the 203,000 calls that came into the center from June 20, 2012, to the same date this year, he said.
Hazleton Police Chief Frank DeAndrea publicly blasted the county emergency dispatch agency for supposed unanswered calls earlier this month, saying a July 5 shooting victim remained bleeding on the street for 20 minutes because people at the scene couldn’t get an answer at 911.
But a thorough review of 911’s computerized database, which logs all answered and unanswered calls to the center, showed there were no missed 911 calls in the half-hour period before the shooting, Rosencrans said.
Rosencrans said he spoke to DeAndrea on Monday, and the chief said he has not received additional information to support the claim that callers couldn’t get through.
“The chief apologized to me and said he was only going on information he had at the scene,” Rosencrans said. DeAndrea could not be reached for comment Tuesday.