Emergency response to 911 calls were getting faster in 2019. Now a new study shows those times are on the rise. Americans make approximately 240 million 911 calls every year, according to the National Emergency Number Association.
A new study from Safety.com compared the average 911 response times in 15 major US cities. The study was broken down into two categories, priority one and priority two. According to the study priority one is often defined as an "emergency call which requires immediate response and there is reason to believe that an immediate threat to life exists." Priority two is often defined as an “emergency call which requires immediate response and there exists an immediate and substantial risk of major property loss or damage.”
Denver, CO had the highest response time clocking in at 11.6 minutes. Philadelphia, PA came in second with 10.9 minutes. Denver and Philadelphia do not separate priority one responses from other priority levels when measuring response time. Seattle, WA rounded out the top three with 10 minutes in priority one and 41 minutes in priority two beating our nation’s capital which came in 8 at 6.9 minutes
Seattle response times to 911 calls triple last summer during the riots and the armed occupation of Capitol Hill. Former Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best said that when the East precinct was ordered shuttered in response to the nightly riots, it took an average of 18 minutes for officers to get to emergency calls. Rapes, robberies and murders all skyrockets 250 percent.
Following the dismantling of the 'autonomous zone' and SPD reopening the East precinct, the numbers came down, but Seattle still recorded double the number of homicides as in previous years in 2020 as well as spikes in other crime categories.
Following the Seattle City Council defunding SPD by millions of dollars, it has become common for Seattleites waiting on priority two responses to wait for hours, if the police event show up at all. Many have stopped reporting crimes all together. Some callers reported being told by 911 operators this summer that there were no available units to respond in the city because the officers were dealing with riots.
According to the Wall Street Journal, "US regulators estimate that as many as 10,000 lives could be saved every year by reducing 911 response times by just one minute though the outlet noted that response times vary by location and the severity of the emergency."
Frederick Kauser, a fire chief of Mifflin Township in Ohio told the Journal, "I can get Uber in some parts of the country faster than I can get an ambulance."
According to the study, "there is no federal regulation around 911 response times, but most local emergency agencies aim for somewhere between 5-7 minutes for priority one, with most aiming to have operators answering all 911 calls within under 20 seconds."