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911 Calls Go Unanswered During Recent Workplace Shooting

Posted at: 10/10/2012 9:53 PM
Updated at: 10/10/2012 10:15 PM
By: Dietrich Nissen

(ABC 6 News) -- On Wednesday we learned there was a delay in answering 911 calls during a deadly shooting in Minneapolis last month.

Minneapolis police say as many as six 911 calls went unanswered during that shooting, leaving many wondering if something similar could happen in Southeast Minnesota.

Dispatch centers in our area say those missed calls may be a combination of staff size and call length. The more dispatchers taking calls, the more likely a call gets answered. But each call is unique, and depending on what's being said some may get no reply.

"It's not the best case scenario but at least people realize that the calls for service are exceeding the ability to answer," says Gary Mulleneaux. He manages the communications center for the Rochester Police Department.

When rare incidents happen, like the Accent Signage shooting in Minneapolis last month, the 13 year veteran says the priority is to gather information.

"There's a lot of calls coming in, in a short amount of time," says Mulleneaux. "In our system and in most, [they] would know that it's a duplicate [call]. When you realize what's happening, the responsibility is to get as much information that's relevant as quickly as you can and get to the next call."

In Rochester’s center, a team of four dispatchers plus a supervisor respond to calls during a normal 12 hour shift.    

"So much of it depends on the staffing you have at the time, what else is going on, how many calls are coming in," says Mulleneaux.

Right now he says there aren't enough high priority calls to warrant a backup plan. However, Minneapolis police made a recording that asks callers to “hang on for the next available operator,”  as a solution.

"When we get a flurry of calls - we had at least 100 in 20 minutes - it's inevitable some callers will have to wait various amounts of time,” says Minneapolis’ Director of Emergency Communication, Heather Hunt.

"It's their call, it's important, it's an emergency and they expect the phone to be answered, and that's a fine expectation, but it's not always reasonable," says Mulleneaux.

Dispatchers in Austin and Albert Lea say three people are normally on duty until the early morning. They say that's when the number of calls drop, so only one person is needed.