February 22, 2024

Kansas City Mayor Vows to Address City’s 9-1-1 Wait Time

Mid America Regional Council graphic depicting average 9-1-1 wait times far exceed national standards

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas has taken a strong stance on the city’s ongoing 9-1-1 wait time problem, emphasizing the need for urgent action. The issue has garnered significant attention and concern from residents and public officials alike. Mayor Lucas has expressed his personal experience with the problem and has vowed to find solutions to improve the city’s emergency response system.

Struggling 9-1-1 Wait Time

In recent weeks, the Kansas City 9-1-1 system has been plagued by distressing wait times, prompting Mayor Quinton Lucas to address the issue publicly. The mayor shared his own personal story, recounting how his sister waited on hold for five minutes when calling 9-1-1 for their mother, who was in need of immediate medical assistance. This incident has shed light on the severity of the problem and sparked a larger conversation about the unacceptable and potentially life-threatening delays faced by callers.

The mayor’s concerns were echoed by numerous Kansas City citizens who shared their own harrowing experiences with long wait times. One individual described how they waited on hold for six minutes while an intruder attempted to break into their house, and it took the police nearly 12 minutes to arrive. Such incidents illustrate the alarming consequences of delayed emergency response and highlight the urgency of addressing the problem.

Data collected by the Mid-America Regional Council revealed that Kansas City’s 9-1-1 answering time has not improved but instead worsened in recent months. In May alone, over 7,940 calls were left waiting in the queue for five minutes or longer, far exceeding the nationwide standards for emergency response times. Saturday, May 6, was the worst day of the month. People waited for an average of 1 minute, 39 seconds, far exceeding the 9-1-1 industry standard of no more than 20 seconds. While data for May 5th shows a caller sat on hold for 16:24, it was not the worst day of the month. On May 5, a person was on hold for 19:44. These concerning statistics have raised concerns about the city’s ability to provide timely assistance during emergencies.

Efforts to resolve the issue have garnered support from the community, but frustrations have also been expressed regarding the current state of emergency services. Mayor Lucas has acknowledged the gravity of the situation and pledged to find a solution to the city’s 9-1-1 problem. He emphasized the need for comprehensive changes, suggesting the possibility of altering which agency handles the calls and who is responsible for answering them. Currently, all 9-1-1 call responses in Kansas City begin with the Kansas City Police Department, but the mayor is open to exploring alternative options, such as involving the fire department or other services. Mayor Lucas also highlighted the potential of utilizing technology to alleviate hold times, including a system being discussed with Honeywell that would allow callers to select between fire, EMS, and police departments.

Related Story: IA 9-1-1 Dispatchers Protest over Understaffing

Applying 9-1-1 Standards

Kansas City’s efforts to address its 9-1-1 call answering delays and improve emergency response times will require the city’s administration to align with the national standards set by the National Emergency Number Association (NENA). NENA has established guidelines to ensure efficient call processing and timely assistance for emergency calls. One crucial metric emphasized by NENA is the goal of answering 95% of all 9-1-1 calls within 15 seconds or 99% of all calls within 20 seconds.

According to NENA’s Call Processing Standard, known as NENA-STA-020.1-2020, the aim is to provide consistent call handling across jurisdictional boundaries, improving service to the public. This standard replaces previous documents and incorporated updated call-answering times, stating that 95% of all 911 calls should be answered within 20 seconds. Prior to 2020, the standard required that 9-1-1 Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) answer 90% of all 9-1-1 calls within 10 seconds. As the volume of 9-1-1 calls has increased and PSAPs have struggled with hiring and retaining qualified personnel, answering calls within 10 seconds has become a challenge for most centers.

The importance of answering 95% of all 9-1-1 calls within 15 seconds cannot be overstated. Timely response is crucial in emergency situations, as it can mean the difference between life and death. When individuals face life-threatening situations, they rely on the prompt assistance provided by emergency services. Delays in call processing can have severe consequences, jeopardizing the safety and well-being of callers and potentially hindering the effectiveness of emergency responders.

By striving to meet the NENA call processing standards, Kansas City can enhance its emergency response system and ensure that callers receive the assistance they need in a timely manner. Mayor Lucas’s commitment to finding comprehensive solutions and exploring alternative options will help the city align with the goal of meeting the NENA standards and improving public safety.

It is essential for cities and jurisdictions to adhere to NENA standards to provide consistent and effective emergency response services. These standards help establish a baseline for call processing and ensure that emergency calls are handled efficiently, regardless of jurisdictional boundaries. Kansas City’s focus on addressing its 9-1-1 call answering delays will demonstrate a commitment to improving public safety and providing timely assistance to those in need.

For a PSAP where the average wait time before calls are answered has not been below 30 seconds since June 2021 and the longest wait time has been progressively increasing each month, Kansas City’s administration has a lot of work ahead of themselves to improve the quality of how 9-1-1 calls are answered.

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