Calgary woman says her 911 call was placed on hold, officials call it misunderstanding
A Calgary convenience store employee is demanding answers after she says she was placed on hold after dialing 911 about an incident.
Sharron Mead works at a convenience store in southwest Calgary. She said at around 5 p.m. on Tuesday, a man wearing no clothes entered the store and began ripping up bags of candy.
“I did a double-take,” Mead told Global News. “He’s naked… so I got on my phone and said, ‘I better call 911,’ because I didn’t know who this guy was and he could have been a threat.
“I called 911 and the first thing I got was, ‘We can’t take your call right now, can you hold?’”
According to Mead, no one was available to take her call.
“[The man] was running down the aisle with Skittles, ripping… [the bag] open,” she said. “There were Skittles everywhere.
“It was crazy… [He was] buck naked. I was freaking out.”
Mead said the person who took her call did not give her an opportunity to explain her emergency. The naked man’s friend eventually came into the store and they both left the premises, Mead said.
“My concern was that… well, I could have been stabbed to death,” she said. “He could have had a gun. I didn’t know he wasn’t a danger. My concern is with 911. What was happening [Tuesday] in the city of Calgary at 5 p.m. [that] they couldn’t take my call?
“It could have been a shooting — that’s my concern. I’d just like to know why I was put on hold for 911.”
However, according to Calgary 911 commander Doug Odney, Mead’s call was actually never placed on hold — and he believes the incident was a misunderstanding.
Odney said in this instance, Mead’s call required police service and so the call was transferred to a police call evaluator.
During that time, if a police operator is unavailable to answer the call, an audio recording is played that says, “All of the emergency operators are busy with other callers. Please do not hang up. Your call will be answered by the next available operator.”
Odney said that recording was the message Mead was hearing, and that she misunderstood it as her being put on hold.
At no point throughout the entire call was Mead on the phone alone, Odney said.
“She may feel like she was on hold, and that can be unnerving, especially when you need police,” he said. “Our goal is to answer those calls immediately and have them speak to the call evaluator.
“During this period of time where there was a surge and no operators were available, that recording just reassures them their call is answered and someone is on the line with them.”
At the time, Odney said 911 received five calls about the incident, which they consider to be a surge.
“Multiple callers called us at the same time and that’s a surge for us, so there was a delay in putting that person to a police call evaluator,” he said. “I can tell her [that] at no time was she placed on hold.
“Her 911 call was answered within about six seconds and then once we were speaking to her, we stay on the line with her,” Odney said.
Calgary 911 said they receive over a million calls per year. They attempt to answer each call within 15 seconds. The average wait time is actually closer to six seconds.
Officials said they want to stress that at no time are callers left on the line alone. They advise Calgarians to call 911 in an emergency.
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