911 Disconnect?

November 20, 2008 8:41:40 PM PST
It was a late night emergency."There were three officers at the door. They all had their hands on their guns, said Jeff Hook. He continued, "They said, we have to come in. We have a report that there's a stabbing in progress, would you allow us to come in, we need to come in now."

Wake County Deputies were responding to someone being stabbed but this time, something is wrong.

"They had the wrong house," said Hook. He lives in southern Wake County. He says 911 dispatchers sent deputies to the wrong address because of a problem with the 911 data.

"I'm still explaining to them, this is the wrong house. Please, you need to call back, you need to validate the address, you're in the wrong place," said Hook.

Every time a call comes in to 911 the caller's address is supposed to appear on the dispatcher's screen.

But, the Eyewitness News Investigative team has found since 2004, Wake County has filed more than 900 reports indicating a problem in the 911 database.

Barry Furey runs the Wake County 911 center.

    Steve Daniels: You don't know you have a problem until you call 911 and need help.
    Barry Furey: Yeah, that's correct, but ? I would say that folks can pretty much rest easy that the number of actual errors that we see is below any of the ? national requirements that are out there.
He says so far this year the 911 center has received about 450000 cals and only 70 have had problems with the data.

"We have an excellent track record," says Furey. "Of course we're always looking to do better but you know, again, nothing's perfect," says Furey.

We uncovered cases where the 911 computer shows no address or in other cases where it shows the completely wrong address. We found 20 different reports indicating the wrong address for swimming pools including public pools, pools at apartment complexes, in neighborhoods and at hotels.

    Steve Daniels: If you're at a swimming pool, you may not know the address.
    Barry Furey: I think if you are at that pool it's obviously a problem.
    Steve Daniels: What do you do if someone's calling and doesn't know the address?
    Barry Furey: It depends on where they're are, if there's someone else around we will ask them to ask them to find the address, we would ask them for landmarks, we would ask them for closest cross-streets.
    Steve Daniels: It sounds like it could lead to a delay.
    Barry Furey: Oh, certainly, certainly.

The 911 database also had the wrong address for other public places like public schools, stores and parks. One of those parks was the park at Falls Lake dam.

We also found many cases of the wrong addresses for homes and apartments. Sometimes dispatchers writes notes like, "caused delay in the sheriff's response."

In one case, a woman in Zebulon called 911 saying someone was breaking into her house. But, the 911 computer showed her address was in Rougemont, 60 miles away. The 911 dispatcher caught the problem and sent her help.

    Steve Daniels: Your 911 operators ask, what's the location of the emergency, but we found cases where emergency help was dispatched to the wrong address.
    Barry Furey: Again, nothing is perfect in the system, I guess if it were a perfect world, um, neither one of us would have a job, frankly. I mean there'd be no emergencies and there'd be nothing to report.

There's another significant problem. We found instances where calls were mistakenly routed to the Wake County 911 center from other parts of the area. It happened when someone called for help from the Dean Dome on UNC's campus in Chapel Hill. When a robber held-up a Bank of America branch on Franklin Street, that call for help went to Raleigh instead of Chapel Hill. We also found people in Wake County calling for help that had their calls routed to Franklin and Harnett Counties.

    Steve Daniels: What if you had a baby sitter, or a small child, or a visitor to your home call 911, they might not be able to tell the 911 dispatcher what the actual address is?
    Barry Furey: That's always a what if, and it's one of the other reasons that we train people and really talk to the public about making sure that babysitters and making sure that your kids even know what their address is.

Eyewitness news first uncovered this problem nearly four years ago and the Wake County public safety director told us they'd tackle the problem. Now, they're still working on it.

    Barry Furey: It's getting better. Am I ever going to stop being concerned about it? No. But I am going to put that concern into perspective.
    Steve Daniels: Are you saying, we should acknowledge the fact that there are problems with the data, errors come with the territory?
    Barry Furey: This isn't a perfect world, and the statistics that I see in terms of the actual errors that make it to the 911 center, they have gone down every year, for the past three years.

Jeff Hook has lived through a 911 mistake and wants Wake County to do a better job with the 911 database.

"That's very disturbing and they've got to look at it and I'm glad that you're doing a story on it," said Jeff Hook. He continued, "Here, you're putting people's lives at risk?. Something's broken, something's seriously broken."

The 911 director tells us technology is part of the problem. A lot of people are switching their computer and cable companies and sometimes customer information is not updated in the 911 database.

If you want to check if the correct information comes up for your phone number, don't call 911. Call your phone company.

If you live in Wake County call either of these numbers, David Hunt: (919) 856 6373 or Bill Eagen: (919) 996 5025.

If you have a tip for us to check out email us.


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