After being one of the first people on the scene following an accident on Clopper Road, Council member Craig Rice (D-2) said the first thing then he and family did was to call 911.
But instead of quickly relaying the details of the accident to an operator, Rice’s wife who made the call was put on hold. For seven minutes, Rice said he and his families assisted the victims and directed traffic around the accident.
“It’s not always as though they get right through,” Rice said of calling 911. “But then the response time was quite long.”
Rice’s anecdote is a sign of a growing trend in the County: longer emergency response times for first responders. On July 17, the County Council Public Safety Committee met with Montgomery County Police Chief Tom Manger to address a new release in criminal statistics, among them the increase response times in 911 calls.
While 7 minutes is an average response time for emergency responders, Rice said a fire and rescue station was located just up the road, but emergency responders came from another station, leading Rice to believe that police and fire and rescue are understaffed. In addition, Rice said the first police officer who responded to the accident was a detective, who just happened to be driving by at the time of the accident.
“Those are the scenarios in which we need to make sure we are increasing the response time to get those areas secure and safe,” Rice said. “And so that means additional officers, so we got to do our part as a Council in being receptive budgetary wise.”
Manger told the committee that Police and fire and rescue are playing catch-up in the Up-County, as it is the fastest growing region of the County.
“It doesn’t surprise me in that area if you have one or two office assigned to that area that they’re busy on another call because that’s just how busy that area is,” Manger said. “So at some point you reach that tipping point where you say, we know we need more people.”
According to police statistics, Montgomery County Police responses times have increase from 7.17 minutes in fiscal year 2013 to 7.46 minutes in fiscal year 2016.
Manger said the increase in the call-response time is due to update at the County’s Public Safety Communications Center which is going through an upgrade in its technology and software. Manger said there have been “glitches” in the new technology at the communications center and that staff is still being trained to use the new technology.
“We did see a little bit of an increase in that response time,” Manger said.
Last July two people died after the County’s 911-system shutdown for about two hours. According to a report, the 911 system shutdown after the air condition units broke at the County’s Alternate Emergency Communications Center in Rockville leading to County’s 911 operating system to overheat and shutdown.
Since then the County has update its 911 to a Computed Assisted Dispatch system, which Manger said has caused delays as emergency response personnel adjust to the new technology. “When we first went to the new CAD (Computed Assisted Dispatch) system there were delays that were caused by technology -- we’ve been problem-shooting those,” Manger said. “We’ve seen improvement since then. I think were not to where we want to be yet, but we’re close.”