"By early next year," reports The Times' Ben Welsh and Robert J. Lopez, "the [Los Angeles Fire Department] expects its dispatchers to be using new, streamlined scripted questions that will help get LAFD ambulances en route seconds — even minutes — faster during cases of cardiac arrest and other time-critical emergencies."
I won't be so churlish as to greet this decidedly positive news with a question: Isn't it a bit odd to announce that "time-critical emergencies" occurring between now and "early next year" will be treated like they're not, well, time-critical?
If you could just hold off on your next heart attack until, say, April 2015, that'd be awesome.
More from the report: "The changes follow a barrage of criticism of the department's 911 response system, including what experts say are sometimes lengthy and confusing pre-written questions that panicked callers must answer before dispatchers can get help on the way."
If you've ever had to call 911, you're nodding your head right now. The old/current/won't-change-until-2015 system has long deployed a "what's the rush" approach that belies the whole idea behind 911.
In the movies, emergency response is high-tech and efficient.
911 operator: "911."
Caller: "Oh my God — someone's in the house!" [Line goes dead.]
911 operator to police dispatcher: "A woman is in trouble. Address: 422 Patterson, Unit 302."
Dispatch: "Units due to arrive in 20 seconds. SWAT backup team on the way. Probably drones. Maybe Mel Gibson."
911 operator to dispatcher: "For God sake, hurry — a woman may be in trouble, and she may be a hot starlet!"
When I call 911 in real life, the response is … efficient? Not so much.
911 operator: "911."
Me: "I just saw a car lose control on the 405 and flip over."
911 operator: "What's your name?"
Me (thinking): "What difference does that make?"
911 operator: "What is your phone number?"
Me (thinking): "Can't you ask the NSA? I mean, aren't you supposed to know that? Or do you guys not have caller ID? And also, shouldn't you first be asking me where the accident is?"
911 operator: "Are there any injuries?"
Me (thinking): "Do you seriously think I'd be talking to you on the phone — i.e., not helping — if I'd pulled over to help?"
911 operator (not thinking): "OK, we're sending someone out."
Me: "Shouldn't you have done that, like, three minutes ago?"
So yeah, good on the LAFD for this change. The new 911 will save lives. Next year.
But who knows? We might miss the chitchat.