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Curbing the 911 cell phone delays

Ben Godar

Most people know to dial 911 in an emergency, but Burbank Police say

few know that when they dial that number from their wireless phones,

it might take up to 10 minutes for them to reach local police.


That’s because all wireless 911 calls are currently routed to CHP

dispatchers, who then have to connect callers with a local police or

fire department.

“Depending on what their call load is, you might wait 10 minutes


for someone to pick up,” Burbank Police Lt. Roger Mason said.

Mason recalled a car crash a couple months ago where the caller on

a wireless phone had to wait for the CHP and then was transferred to

Burbank Fire dispatchers before police were notified.

“We found out about that when we heard the sirens from the fire

department,” he said.

In order to avoid those kinds of delays, Sgt. William Berry

recommended that Burbank residents program the department’s local


number, 238-3000, into their wireless phones.

That number connects to the same dispatchers as 911, who will ask the caller if the situation is an emergency.

“That phone sits on the same desk and is answered by the same

people [as 911],” he said. “It’s just as fast.”

While the local number will connect callers to Burbank

dispatchers, police said that when people are outside of the city

they should still dial 911 from their wireless phones.

Mason said state officials are working to upgrade the system so


wireless calls connect with local dispatchers, but the many different

providers and technologies used for mobile calls makes it difficult.

Such an upgrade is currently underway, but Mason said any cellular

towers that touch a freeway area will still be required to be routed

through CHP. In Burbank, he said that means calls in 70% of the area

would still go to CHP even after the system is upgraded.

Eventually, Mason believes the number of wireless phones will

allow people to contact police faster, but he said streamlining the

system will probably take another two to three years.

“When this system is better developed, I think it’s going to

provide tremendous public safety support,” he said. “Right now, the

technology is holding us back.”