AUSTIN (KXAN) — An audit released to the city of Austin’s Audit and Finance Committee found from 2018 data that Austin Police and Fire Departments missed a number of their goals when it came to 911 response times.
According to the audit, APD, AFD and Austin-Travis County EMS all met the National Emergency Number Association’s standard of answering 911 calls in less than ten seconds.
ATCEMS met most of its own department’s goals, as well, according to the audit.
However, the audit states, “APD and AFD reported that they missed most of their other goals related to the timeliness of 911 operations. Many of the missed goals related to the time it took for resources to arrive on the scene and involve factors outside of the direct control of communications staff. For example, arrival time at an emergency depends in large part on the location of the emergency in relation to available resources.”
For example, APD’s goal for total response time to emergency calls is six minutes and 44 seconds. However, in 2018, the average total response time to those calls was seven minutes and 15 seconds. One of AFD’s goals was having firefighters on the scene in eight minutes or less after a call was received at least 90% of the time. However, the audit found in 2018, that only happened 82% of the time.
The city says in many cases, longer response times may be out of first responders’ control. Factors like Austin’s traffic problems and how far away an emergency may be from where police or firefighters are stationed play a part.
“We have some challenges with response times in a growing city and in a city that has some mobility challenges,” said Austin City Council Member Alison Alter. “So the fire ones, that’s why we’re investigating in five new fire stations over the five years, including one in my district. With respect to APD, that’s why we’re adding about 30 officers a year, because those response times matter to the public.”
The audit also found that APD, AFD and ATCEMS all need better plans and training for how they’d handle the city’s system going down. That could happen if there were something like a cyber attack or a natural disaster that were to disrupt 911 operations.
Plan B would be to move 911 operations to another location in town. The audit found that mone of the departments’ current plans even have the right address for where the city’s back-up operations center would be.
If it gets really bad, Austin would re-direct all 911 calls to dispatchers in San Antonio.
According to the audit, a lot of first responders have no practice with how they’d handle either of those situations.
As a result, all three agencies will now be required to re-work their emergency plans, go through required training for those and do drills twice a year with San Antonio’s Emergency Communications Center.
The audit also found that a lot of people aren’t sure when they should call 911 versus 3-1-1. For example, police get calls about downed power lines, but those should usually go to Austin Energy via 311.
Meanwhile, some people think they should call 311 to report a gas smell, but AFD considers that an emergency and says it warrants calling 911.
This audit suggests each agency increase public education efforts through social media and educational videos to help clear up what warrants a 911 call and when it should be a 311 call, instead.