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Charleston County officials explain delays answering 9-1-1 calls with child in pond case

County officials at the Charleston County consolidated dispatch center say they received four 911 calls from Ashley River Creative Arts Elementary School in West Ashley. Two of them were answered within seconds, but the other calls caused concern for the people trying to get help for a child in the water. (WCIV)

County officials at the Charleston County consolidated dispatch center say they received four 911 calls from Ashley River Creative Arts Elementary School in West Ashley.

Two of them were answered within seconds, but the other calls caused concern for the people trying to get help for a child in the water.

Frustration can be heard in the voice of a caller at the building on Wallace School Road off Ashley River Road on Tuesday.

“Why is this 911 not answering the phone?!”, yelled an upset woman while on the phone calling 911.

It took 53 seconds for 911 call takers to answer. The caller needed help for a child who was found in a nearby pond. It was one of four emergency calls that were made.

“Two of the calls were 911 open lines and the call takers were trying to figure out what was going on. So it just takes longer for us to then get to those other 911 lines that are ringing at the center,” said Allyson Burrell, deputy director of consolidated dispatch with Charleston County.

She explained how open line calls can delay response times for telecommunicators. Burrell said call takers lose valuable time trying to get important details about an emergency.

“Any time we receive a 911 open line call, even if it’s from a cell phone, we always a generate a call for service and we dispatch units to that call. And that’s what occurred with that first call.”

Burrell confirms Charleston Police were notified quickly about the incident at the school. Even before anyone told them what was going on, help was on the way despite the high number of calls.


“From the hours of 11 until 7 in the evening is when we have our highest call volume. We staff based on that. And so at that point in time we did actually have the correct number of call takers on duty in order to handle those calls,” Burrell said.

Despite delays answering two calls from the school, county officials believe they handled them properly.

“Certainly the solution is to increase staffing when you can,” Burrell said. “But that’s not always possible.”

County officials say they frequently evaluate their staffing as call volume increases. For now, they remind people who need to call 9-1-1 to remain calm and to stay on the line. 911 operators rely on concise information so EMS workers can respond as quickly as possible.

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