‘I tried for probably 30 minutes’: People experiencing long wait times with Chatham County 911 Center

Published: Nov. 28, 2022 at 4:43 PM EST|Updated: Nov. 29, 2022 at 9:31 AM EST
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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - What would you do, if you were in an emergency situation and couldn’t get ahold of anyone by calling 911?

Many people in Chatham County are telling us it isn’t just a question, it’s exactly what happened to them.

While looking into this story, 96 people reached out saying they had to wait several minutes to get an answer when calling 911, had to wait for a call back, or they simply never never reached anyone at all.

One of those people is Jamie Stroh who lives in Chatham County. He says in the past year he’s called 911 twice.

He said he called about a car accident and only reached someone after the tenth time he called.

He also says he called 911 about a man making violent threats in downtown Savannah but never got anyone to pick up.

“I tried for probably 30 minutes to get a 911 operator, and even get somebody to call me back, and it never happened,” Stroh said.

Stroh says that he did eventually get a call back from the 911 Center but when he answered the call, no one was on the other end.

He says his frustration grows as he thinks what might have happened if the situation had gone from threats to physical violence while he could not get any help.

“Thankfully he didn’t have any weapons, he didn’t have anything that was going to hurt others or himself. But what if he did? I didn’t know that at the time. I didn’t know what he’s got. I was extremely worried and not getting ahold of somebody intensified that feeling of helplessness.”

Chatham County 911 Center Director Diane Pinckney says that situations like Stroh’s come down to understaffing and high call volume.

She says they’d like to be able to answer each call immediately and the average wait time in Chatham County is 14 seconds. However, it can take longer during what she calls “peak times”, which happens when they get a lot of calls very quickly- like after a bad car accident.

Operators also don’t just answer calls - they sometimes offer life-saving medical advice to callers until emergency crews get there.

“If you’re doing that, then that kind of takes you out of the loop of being a call taker until that ambulance arrives on scene, which could be quite a bit of time,” Pinckney said.

Pinckney says they’re actively recruiting new operators by offering competitive pay.

They need 28 more than they currently have but the training process can be take a long time because of how important and tough the job is.

Pinckney adds that part of the issue is folks calling 911 and clogging the phone lines with things that aren’t emergencies.

“While we’re handling non-emergency calls, that’s taking up that same operator that would be calling the 911 calls. So it would help us out a lot if the public would get to know those non-emergency numbers. When we are utilizing the 911 system for things that aren’t emergencies, it’s going to utilize our resources in a way right now that we don’t need it to right now, especially with our staffing challenges,” Pinckney said.

In the meantime Stroh says he’s frustrated by the lack of reliability of such an essential service and would like to see the county look into it.

”Reading those comments of some of the situations people were in, I think the County, the County Commissioner, whoever it may be, needs to look at those comments, needs to listen to their constituents, and be like you know what? We do have a problem here. You can’t blame the police and you can’t blame the dispatchers themselves, but you can blame the system,” Stroh said.

The Chatham County 911 Center handles calls for the entire county, including all of the cities. That is about 296,000 people.

So, whether you’re in Savannah, Pooler, Port Wentworth, or an unincorporated part of the county if you call 911, it runs through this call center.