What you should know before you call 911 in this Md. county

BOWIE, Maryland — A WTOP listener trying to report a loose dog in her Bowie neighborhood told WTOP she called 911 and hung up twice before finally reaching a call taker on her third try.

WTOP investigated and found out it’s an example for everyone of what not to do.

At the Prince George’s County’s 911 center in Bowie where the woman’s calls were directed, the goal is to answer each call within 10 seconds or less, but that doesn’t happen every time.

“Call answer time varies, because it’s based on call volume,” Charlynn Flaherty, associate director of public safety communications and homeland security in Prince George’s County, told WTOP.

If a call taker doesn’t pick up after 10 seconds, every 911 caller hears a recording telling them not to hang up and that his call will be answered in the order that it came in.

“When she [the listener] called, there was a high surge of call volume. There were 25 calls in the five minutes surrounding her call,” Flaherty said.

She says the listener should have called once and waited on the line for a call taker to pick up.

Flaherty says calling 911, hanging up and calling again is never a good idea.

“It doesn’t put you higher in the queue, it puts you lower in the queue,” she said.

Plus, when you call 911 and hang up, a call taker must call you back to make sure you’re OK.

In the case of our listener, two call takers had called her back or were trying to as she spoke with a third.

“There were several call takers involved with this process that didn’t need to be involved,” Flaherty said.

Flaherty said the center’s staffing has increased dramatically in recent years, from 39 call takers in 2002, to 70 today.

She said they’re always in need of hiring people, but a new class of about 10 call takers began training this week.

The training, which is very intense, takes four to six months to complete.

Flaherty says the 911 center, which opened in 2011, has top of the line equipment and very high standards.

“We are accredited by the National Academy of Emergency Dispatch. We are one of six [centers] in the world that is accredited to meet all three requirements that they have: police, fire and EMS dispatch,” she said.

Flaherty adds that the WTOP listener made another mistake. Because the loose dog was not threatening anyone, she should have called Animal Control instead of 911.

Here are some guidelines to help you decide if you should call 911 or another number in Prince George’s County:

  • Call 911 to report emergency situations such as any fire, life-threatening situation, a serious crime in progress or serious medical problem that requires immediate response.
  • Call the county police’s nonemergency dispatch number at 301-352-1200 when you need help from police for a situation that is not an emergency. For example, to report a crime that happened in the past, a nonthreatening suspicious person, car or situation, a parking violation or property damage.
  • Call 311 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday with questions, complaints or compliments about county programs and services, questions about impounded cars, snow removal, recycling or trash pickup.
  • Call the county police tip line at 1-866-411-8477 to report unusual activity or something that seems out of place, let police know about something that doesn’t require an immediate response, or submit Crime Solvers information. You also can submit a tip online.

Below is a video about the county’s 911 center:

Michelle Basch

Michelle Basch is a reporter and anchor at WTOP.

Follow @WTOP on Twitter and like us on Facebook.

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