It could be an alarming trend or just a brief hiccup, but whatever the end result turns out to be, it’s a bit unnerving to read that 911 callers hoping for help in emergencies such as personal injury accidents, car and truck crashes, and the like might be placed on hold by an apparently over-worked system. The lost minutes or seconds could mean the difference between life and death.
Consider any situation where a driver and/or passengers of a car, SUV or motorcycle may have been injured after their vehicle is hit by a commercial deliver truck or other, larger motor vehicle — the thought of being put on hold during such a critical time is unthinkable in this day and age.
As Maryland injury attorneys, I and my staff understand how many victims of traffic accidents, car-pedestrian collisions and other driving-related wrecks would feel if we turned the calendar back to the days when there was no organized emergency response system. The emergency 911 system has been around in one form or another since the mid-1970s, but with the advent of cell phones over the past couple decades, almost anyone can get access to a 911 operator most anywhere in the country.
But getting through apparently can be an issue, according to a recent editorial in the Baltimore Sun. The author’s message in that article highlights an apparent nightmare experience with Baltimore’s 911 response system following a local car crash between the victim’s small passenger car, a much larger SUV and a minivan; it might just make some people think differently about driving into the city.
According to the article, the victim was driving through northeaster Baltimore on a Saturday afternoon in late July when she became involved in a multi-vehicle wreck. The author explained that she and her vehicle became, in essence, the collateral damage from this collision. Despite the severity of the roadway crash, the author explains that, amazingly, she was physically unhurt when she jumped out of her smashed vehicle and dialed 911 for assistance.
In what the woman describes as an “alternate reality,” her 911 call was answered by a canned voice stating, “Please wait for the next available representative.” Checking to make certain that she had dialed the correct numbers, it appeared right, but still she was put on hold by the 911 system.
Calling the mayor’s office, the author found out that Baltimore cut back its 311 service to operate apparently only during weekday office hours; all other times, she reportedly was told, the 311 calls get routed to the city’s 911 emergency number, resulting in people being put on hold when calling for a true emergency.
The strange thing, according to the author, is that the city bureaucracy didn’t simply have a message for 311 callers to try back during normal business hours, but instead decided to route those calls through the 911 operator. Why? No one seemed to be able to give the woman a good answer, and apparently there was no interest in changing the status quo.
To put an even harsher spin on the entire episode, the author and car accident victim said she was not allowed by the Baltimore police officer at the scene to get the license and insurance information of the driver who hit her. Instead she was reportedly told that she would have to get that information off of a police report, which she learned she would have to purchase from the police department.
Unfortunately for this person, until she can get the proper information from the Baltimore PD, her insurance company is treating the accident as an “at-fault” traffic collision until she can prove otherwise.
One can feel the frustration in this woman’s story and it serves to remind us that even if one is the injured party, the system is not always set up to accommodate those not at fault. Whether or not a car accident attorney could help this person depends on the understanding of all the facts. At least she wasn’t injured, which would have made her life much more difficult and perhaps impossible to proceed as she had in the past.
Crash victim wonders if city gives a hoot, BaltimoreSun.com, July 27, 2011