Portland 911 struggling to answer calls ‘as quickly as possible’

Multnomah County

Emergency officials said non-emergency callers waited on hold for 30 minutes Thursday morning

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Emergency officials reported longer-than-normal wait times for 911 and non-emergency callers on Thursday as law enforcement officials responded to multiple incidents across Portland.

Because 911 takes priority, the goal is for call takers to answer 911 calls within seconds. But they reported being unable to meet that goal Thursday morning.

Emergency officials said people were waiting on hold for 30 minutes for their non-emergency line. But the delay also impacted the 911 line. Residents may be surprised to learn that the people who answer 911 calls are the same people who answer non-emergency calls.

“One of the things that happens is when people are waiting for a very long time on non-emergency, they get frustrated, sometimes call 911, and then that causes additional delays,” said Dan Douthit with the Portland Bureau of Emergency Communications. “We absolutely have to keep 911 open for those life-safety emergencies. In some cases, every second matters.”

Thursday morning wasn’t particularly unusual for Portland-area emergency dispatchers. The city’s 911 center has seen 25-40% more 911 calls at various times this year than during the same times in 2020.

“Even at full staffing, it is tough for us to answer those calls as quickly as possible,” said Douthit.

October 2021 Portland BOEC update

Since the beginning of 2021, the Portland Bureau of Emergency Communications’ ability to answer calls within seconds has steadily decreased. The bureau currently has 114 call takers, dispatchers and trainees, as well as five training academies scheduled through the end of 2022 that will potentially add 35 to 40 new hires. The bureau estimates an annual loss of 10 to 15 employees each year.

The Portland Bureau of Emergency Communications also plans to seek funding for additional positions during the next fiscal year. The bureau is also planning to add new technology to the non-emergency system in the hopes of cutting the number of calls to the 911 center and allowing dispatchers to answer 911 calls faster.

For now, people trying to get through the non-emergency line can find online resources about reporting incidents, try calling back at a lower volume time, or try calling 211.

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