Many calls to the city’s 911 emergency line during Hurricane Sandy went unanswered, were met with unhelpful dispatchers or were wrongly forwarded to 311, the New York Post reports.
The paper spoke with Diane Hudson, who was trying to call 911 for her elderly friend, David Gotthelf, who has cerebral palsy and was trapped inside of his flooded Rockaway Park home.
Hudson recounted to the Post that during the first hour of calls to 911, she was met with a busy signal. When she was transferred to Emergency Medical Services, they told her they did not perform rescues and instructed her to call 311, who in turn, told her to call 911.
“I told them my friend who’s disabled was stuck in his apartment, and I hadn’t spoken to him in hours. They said, ‘We can’t really help you because it’s not a medical emergency,” Hudson told the paper.
Hudson said she called 911 and 311 several more times throughout the night until her cell phone battery died. The next morning, she found that Gotthelf had drowned in his home.
According to the Post, 911 received 20,000 calls per hour when the storm hit on Oct. 29. The 911 system typically handles 30,000 calls a day.
And though calls to 911 were frantic, NYPD spokesman Paul Browne defended the system, instead criticizing callers.
“Instead of holding on as instructed by a recording during these peaks, callers hung up and redialed even through the recording cautioned against doing so because it put repeat callers back at the bottom of the queue and furthered overall delays,” he told the paper. “Despite repeated requests to the public to use 311 for non-emergencies, many still used 911 for non-life-threatening situations.”