Should a caller EVER be placed on hold when calling 911? Common sense tells us of course not, right? By the very nature of the call, that you are calling 911, you have an emergency that needs to be addressed, well, emergently. Unfortunately, many 911 calls in Metro Atlanta are being placed on hold, with the typical hold message of “Your call is very important to us.”
CBS46 News has investigated and reported on this new phenomenon in which the 911 Center places an emergency caller on hold. CBS46 uncovered a frightening trend in the numbers, showing an increase in 911 wait times. For the first four months of 2022, nearly 13%, which is over 40,433 people, sat on hold more than 40 seconds. That’s an increase from 2021 where it was at 9%, and 2020 at 5%. The majority of Atlanta’s 911 callers do not wait on hold for more than 10 seconds. In the first four months of 2022, roughly 75% of Atlanta’s 911 callers or 245,855 people called 911 and waited less than 10 seconds to talk to an actual person.
I experienced this personally recently when my husband called 911 to report a street racing incident occurring near a restaurant where we where having dinner out on its patio. We were enjoying dinner outside when we started smelling smoke and heard tires screeching. This occurred at the intersection of Briarcliff Road and LaVista Road in unincorporated DeKalb County on a beautiful Sunday early evening. Within seconds of the noise of the screeching tires, a crowd appeared, as if by magic. There were easily 80-100 people surrounding that intersection watching cars go round and round burning up their tires. I’m guessing some of those 80-100 folks were armed, thanks to our “concealed carry” law in Georgia. It wasn’t a leap in logic or imagination to believe someone might get hurt. My husband dialed 911 and was placed on hold with a message saying to him that his call “was important to them.” We later saw numerous posts on our NextDoor website that other folks attempted to call 911 for this same incident, also, and were placed on hold. Eventually, DeKalb County police cars arrived at the scene perhaps 10 minutes after we tried to call.
Now, if this had been an emergency with a person about to shoot someone else, that person would have been killed. If this had been an emergency in which a murderer walked into a grocery store to kill as many people as he possibly could, as happened this past weekend in Buffalo, N.Y., tens of people would have been killed.
Whether you would have a cause of action against the 911 Center for the death of a loved one in the event of their failure to pick up your call is unlikely. Georgia grants a wide blanket of protection to many government actors. More than likely, any attempt at suing a 911 Center would be dismissed based on immunity. So I doubt our Georgia Civil Justice System will be much of a help when the 911 Center negligently fails to answer your call.
But, something needs to be done. Hire more people? Better training? Different emergency numbers for different types of emergencies, e.g., mental health emergency medical emergency, etc.? Yes, to all of these things.
Stay safe out there.
Robin Frazer Clark is a trial lawyer who pursues justice for those who have personal injury claims as a result of being injured in motor vehicle wrecks, trucking wrecks, defective products, defective maintenance of roads, premises safety, medical malpractice and other incidents caused by the negligence of others. Ms. Clark is the 50th President of the State Bar of Georgia, a Past President of Georgia Trial Lawyers Association, a Past President of the Lawyers Club of Atlanta and has practiced law in Georgia for 30 years. She is a member of the International Society of Barristers and of the American Board of Trial Advocates. Mrs. Clark is listed as one of the Top 50 Women Trial Lawyers in Georgia and is a Georgia Super Lawyer. Ms. Clark is the co-host of the podcast “See You In Court,” sponsored by the Georgia Civil Justice Foundation.
Robin Frazer Clark ~ Dedicated to the Constitution’s Promise of Justice for All.