On hold for better service

Most people I know do not particularly like making phone calls. For such a simple act of communication, it always seems like so much can go wrong. What if they don’t pick up? What if my voicemail sounds ridiculously awkward? What the hell am I going to say if they answer?

Arguably, the most panic-stricken call of all, and one most people hope they never have to make, is a call to 911.

Last September, it was revealed that Winnipeg’s 911 emergency call centre fell below national standards, with the centre answering 87.75 per cent of calls in less than 10 seconds. The National Emergency Number Association sets the national standard at 90 percent in less than 10 seconds. During his reelection campaign, Mayor Sam Katz promised an additional 19 staff to the call centre, which according to the Winnipeg Sun, was recently approved by city council.
I’ve been on the other end of a 911 call, and as you can probably imagine, it was not a particularly pleasant experience. I grew up believing that if you call 911, you will be okay. That someone will answer and respond immediately. I’m not sure if I believe that anymore. For me, this isn’t a problem with the staff at the centre, who were extremely patient and helpful, but one with an emergency response system that seems overwhelmed and seriously flawed.

If you can imagine the anxiety of waiting for a date or an employer to pick up the phone, take that feeling and multiply it by 100. Ten seconds may not seem like a very long time, but in an emergency, it feels like a lifetime. Though I estimate I only had to wait about five seconds before my call was answered, I couldn’t believe it when I was actually put on hold.

Another thing that I think most people misunderstand about calling the emergency centre is that there is a lot more talking and a lot more waiting before your situation is actually responded to. I had this expectation that as soon as I placed the call, police would be at my door in seconds. Yet the reality was that I had to describe to the person on the other end what my emergency was and who I was, a necessary process but one that felt like an eternity, during which I was told that police were on their way.

Despite making the call, and being told that help was on the way, I waited so long at I ended up having to try and deal with the emergency myself, a position I don’t think anyone should have to be put in. I was calling because a fight in the house I was in had escalated, and I was scared that someone was going to be seriously injured, or worse. I ended up having to get in the middle of the altercation myself, something that at 1.5 metres tall and 57 kilograms was probably not a very good idea. If my emergency had been a fire or an attempted homicide, it would have been too late.

While it’s debatable whether Katz’s promise to put more police on the street will cut the crime rate or not, the addition of more staff to the emergency call centre is something Winnipeg truly needs and is a campaign promise that I hope is enacted swiftly. That being said, I hope that I do not have the opportunity to see what kind of difference it makes.