Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Ohio Cell Phone 911...get you killed?

(Yeah, the title is a bit melodramatic, but I think it's appropriate)

It's no secret that I've lived in Ohio for a little over 5 years. Slightly lesser known is that I spent my first 21 years in California -- the majority of that in Southern California. I also drove the vast majority of my first 100,000 miles in that state.

As a young driver I was repeatedly told and taught, to call 911 for any debris on the road..(The CHP also has a really cool website* where you can see the status of every reported incident in the various regions)

In California, if you call 911 from a cell phone your call is answered by one of seven CHP Communication Centers (typically the closest to you) and--in my experience--that communication center handles the call from beginning to end: Certainly in the case of roadway debris you simply say that you're reporting debris in lanes, the road, and a mile marker or exit and you're done ("A sofa in the #1 lane, Northbound I5, just north of the 78"--if you aren't on a highway/freeway [unlike Ohio, the CHP has exclusive jurisdiction on highways-I miss that] they'll contact the proper authorities and relay the information)

In Ohio, the process is baffling. May God help you if you have a life threatening emergency.

You call 911 from a cell phone in Ohio, eventually someone answers: They ask what city you're in. If you know, great, they'll transfer you. If you don't know you start playing "emergency roulette". Three examples that come to mind:

(a) The Truck: Shortly after I moved to Ohio I was on 271 Northbound and I saw a truck driving erratically and finally spin out into the center divider at a fairly high speed. I called 911. "What city?" "271 Northbound at Mile marker X... Mayfield Village, I think?" "No I think you're in Mayfield Heights. I'll transfer you". ...I get transferred to Mayfield Heights...
"I just saw a truck spin out into the center divider, 271 Northbound at MM X, it hit at fairly high speed." "Oh, that's in Mayfield Village. I'll transfer you." ...I get transferred to Mayfield Village..."A truck spun out into the center divider, 271 Northbound at MM X, fairly high speed."
"Ok, we'll send someone out to take a look at it..."
So, I had to repeat the nature of the situation twice, the location three times, and was transferred twice. I sure hope that the driver's injuries, if any, weren't life threatening.

(b) The Barrel - A couple years later I had to drive to Dayton on Labor Day for a project the following day... along the way, in the middle of the vast nowhere, I wound up playing chicken with an overturned construction barrel (those giant orange things that are ubiquitous in Ohio this time of year) rolling back and forth in traffic lanes.

Traffic was light, but it was still dangerous. Again, I called. "911. What City?" "I don't know. Reporting a traffic hazard, Interstate 71 Southbound, Mile Marker X, just South of the XYZ county line--a construction barrel in lanes" "There are a lot of those. I need to know what city." "It's the middle of nowhere--I'm driving south on Interstate 71, at mile marker X, and I just passed a sign saying XYZ county line." "We have two XYZ county... I really need to know what city you're in." "I'm sorry... I don't know." "Goodbye"

Leaving the absurdity of having two counties with the same name in this state aside and the unnecessarily sarcastic "there are a lot of those" comment, it would seem like providing the interstate number, mile marker, and direction of travel would be enough information to pinpoint the location of the hazard within a few thousand feet -- at most.

So we get to today...

(c) The Random Stuff At Rush Hour -- Just before rush hour today I was driving on I480 to pick up some dry cleaning, Along the way I abruptly went from 60-ish to 0 in one of those "Wow, I didn't realize my brake pedal went this far down...and I hope I stop before something else stops me" moments. A few car lengths ahead I see the cause of the abrupt slowdown: What appears to be a quite large bundle of something (possibly insulation) and some wood is in lanes. Certainly going to cause issues...

So I pull out my cell phone and... "911. What city is your emergency?" "I don't know, I'm on 480 Westbound at MM 25, reporting debris in lanes"
"One moment.... You're in Maple Heights, let me transfer you."
...I get transferred... "911. Police, fire, or medical?" "I'm reporting debris in traffic lanes, 480 Westbound at MM 25" "Please hold....Um, sir, please hold...You're in Cleveland, let me transfer you..."** ... I get transferred again... "Cleveland Police" "Hi, I'm reporting debris in traffic lanes, 480 Westbound at MM 25" "Can you tell me what type of debris you saw?"
(I described what I saw)
"Thank you, we'll report debris in lanes, Interstate 480 west at MM 25 to ODOT. Have a nice evening"

So the Cleveland dispatcher was impeccably professional and did exactly what expected: And exactly what the first dispatcher to answer the phone in California would do. But again, I was transferred twice to get there: In that time someone could have hit it, could have hit another car avoiding it, and less important in the whole scheme of things: Who knows how much time and gas was wasted by the slow down.

Why couldn't the first dispatcher take the details? Why not transfer me directly to ODOT if they're the folks who ultimately need to know?

Why isn't an interstate, direction, and location (mile marker or exit) enough information to accurately get someone routed to the proper location.

So if you have a true emergency, be sure you know what city you're in before you call.

* - In fact, when I was writing this the following incident was noted:
Incident: 0770 Type: Traffic Hazard Location:SB I15 JNO RANCHO BERNARDO RD

4:41PM CHP Unit Enroute

(translation: Southbound Interstate 15 just north of Rancho Bernardo Road, there's a piece of metal the size of a towel rack in either the HOV (Carpool) or slow lane, and a highway patrol officer is enroute)
** - I would have never guessed I was in Cleveland at that point of 480... Well, I wouldn't have guessed Maple Heights either. I've lived here for 5 years and never heard of Maple Heights. Learn something new every day.

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