PORTLAND, Ore. -- A new report by an ombudsman with the city auditor’s office says the 911 system serving Portland, Gresham and some other communities is not operating nearly as well as it purports to.
The report says the inefficiencies are a problem that's been masked by bad reporting by the Bureau of Emergency Communications for more than a decade. And it gets to the very heart of the system: answering emergency calls quickly by a system that is often taxed by understaffing.
For example, the 911 system claimed for fiscal year 2015-16 they answered 911 calls within 20 seconds 99.6 percent of the time. The report says the percentage is much worse, at 67.8 percent. Also, the bureau claims the average pickup time for calls is one second. The report says in reality it's 23 seconds.
And in emergencies, every second counts.
The report says the problem goes back to 2004. That's when Portland's 911 system implemented the "Reno Solution", a screening system for cell phone calls that, unlike landline calls, requires people to confirm they want to talk to a 911 operator.
The measuring of those calls has not included counting the screening time, or the hold time before an operator picks up. So a call that may register as one second of waiting could have been and often was on hold for minutes. And cell phone calls make up 75 percent of 911 calls, so the ombudsman contends the reporting is way off.
Further, the report says 911 managers were aware of the technical problem that has led to misleading data, but haven't addressed it, or acknowledged the discrepancy when reporting call time data to the city council and the public.
The interim director of emergency communications says they have been transparent, and fixes are in the works.
Mayor Ted Wheeler has reacted to the report already, citing the importance of an efficient system, and the need to improve.
All of this will be discussed at a city council meeting on Wednesday.
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