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Portland considers automated system to improve 911 and nonemergency call wait times

"You’ll actually be talking to an intelligent computer who will help to direct you to the resources that you need,” explained city commissioner Mingus Mapps.

PORTLAND, Ore. — City commissioner Mingus Mapps hopes to improve 911 wait times by installing artificial intelligence software to help answer nonemergency calls.

Mapps hopes the automated system will be up and running by the end of the year, as first reported by Willamette Week.

“When you call into the nonemergency number, instead of getting a live human being, you’ll actually be talking to an intelligent computer who will help to direct you to the resources that you need,” Mapps told KGW.

The Versaterm Case Service system, which costs roughly $125,000, is used in other dispatch centers including Chandler, Ariz. and San Ramon, Calif. Portland leaders were briefed on the technology earlier this month.

RELATED: Need 911? Callers in Portland average more than 1 minute on hold

A KGW investigation found that Portland’s Bureau of Emergency Communication, or BOEC, doesn’t answer 911 calls fast enough, consistently failing to meet the national standard of answering 90% of all 911 calls within 15 seconds.

In August, the average 911 caller in Portland waited 57 seconds.

Over the past year, emergency dispatchers have been inundated with an extremely high number of both emergency and nonemergency calls.

“We are just getting slammed,” said Mapps, who hopes the artificial intelligence software will allow dispatchers to focus on true emergencies, instead of being bogged down by nonemergency calls.

Next year, Mapps hopes to restructure where calls go by handing off all nonemergency calls to a new citywide 311 hotline.

RELATED: If 911 isn't the best choice, who do you call when you see someone in distress in Portland?

“We have to fix a problem and a mistake that the city of Portland made decades ago. That mistake was connecting 911 with nonemergency,” said Mapps.