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After struggling to find solution to 911 woes, OCSO may have the answer

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — On Jan. 10, witnesses were stunned when two people involved in a high-speed crash that tore a car in half practically walked away from the incident.

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On the sidelines, three people picked up their phones to get ambulances rushing to the scene. When they dialed 911, surprise number two: no one answered.

“The three of us who witnessed it and were standing next to each other couldn’t get it to connect,” one woman, Britni, later wrote in a message to WFTV. “It would ring then end after 40-50 seconds for all of us.”

They were the latest of several cases in which emergency dispatchers didn’t get on the line within the 10 seconds mandated by the state.

Read: Crash splits car in 2 in Orange County

In August, WFTV spoke to a woman who couldn’t get help as she and her boyfriend were being shot at in a road rage incident.

At the time, OCSO said it was strained by staffing shortages and technology changes that increased the number of automatic 911 dials.

The agency’s leadership explained it made a number of adjustments to try to get on top of the problem.

Read: Calls to 911 are going unanswered in Orange County. The sheriff’s office is making changes

“Anytime that we’re we fall short of our goals, it’s a concern,” Undersheriff Mark Canty said.

Data released by the agency shows the issue was not resolved. Call pickup times worsened as 2023 wore on until roughly 25% of calls weren’t being picked up within 10 seconds in December.

However, an answer may finally have been found. Call pickup times rebounded in January and early February when more than 83% of calls were answered quickly.

Read: Orange Fire Rescue set to unveil new tech allowing video 911 calls

That’s around the time Sheriff John Mina said OCSO implemented a new “phone tree” system to handle non-emergency calls.

“Now those calls are being diverted through a phone tree and getting to the right place. It’s getting to the county government, it’s getting to the fire departments getting to… criminal investigations,” Mina explained.

He said it freed up dispatchers to take emergency calls, and a survey was done over a one- to two-day period, during which 90% of calls or greater were answered within the acceptable time.

“It’s something that we’re very, very happy to see that improvement,” he explained, adding that staffing levels have also increased thanks to a hiring bonus. “We are seeing success.”

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