Charleston County defends delay in answering 911 calls in school incident

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Charleston County officials Thursday defended their response after delays in answering two 911 calls after an incident at a school.

Four 911 calls were made Tuesday after a six-year-old boy fell into a retention pond behind Ashley River Creative Arts Elementary School

Charleston County released recordings of two of the calls. In one of them, it took 53 seconds to an operator to answer. In the other call, it took one minute, six seconds for an answer.

Charleston County officials have offered an explanation.

Consolidated dispatch Deputy Director Allyson Burrell says two of the four calls received at the time of the incident were "open line" calls, meaning no one on the other end spoke.

Burrell says during the first call the school's address showed up and the Charleston Police Department was contacted right away.

Dispatch records show the call was answered at 11:06 a.m. EMS, fire and rescue and police were dispatched at the same time. Burrell says the ambulance got to the school at 11:10 a.m.

So why did it take so long to answer two of the 911 calls?

Burrell says the call center was dealing with several other calls at the same time, including car accidents and a suicidal person.

She also said while the center was fully staffed with seven call takers answering phones, having two calls with no one on the line delayed answering the two other calls from the school.

"Because that occurred then it drags that process out and takes us a little bit longer to then sometimes answer the other lines because they were trying to determine what is occurring with the 911 open lines," Burrell said.

Burrell says even though she believes the incident was handled correctly, she says it will still be reviewed.

"It always gives us an opportunity to look at our processes and determine if there's anything that we need to do to otherwise tweak it, make it better, modify it for the betterment of our citizens and betterment of the staff upstairs," Burrell said.

Burrell is urging anyone who has to call 911 to not hang up or put the phone down to avoid any possible delays in response times.

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