SF opens emergency operations center

April 16, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
San Francisco wanted to show off its new emergency operations center on Wednesday. It's a $2 million dollar renovation, designed to improve emergency coordination during earthquakes and other major events. However, the focus of the news conference turned to the city's poor response times for 911 calls.

Six-and-a-half minutes, that's how long it should take between the time the emergency call is made to the 911 center and when medical help actually arrives. Often, in San Francisco, that doesn't happen.

"We're not where we were, and we're not where we're going to be," said San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom.

On Wednesday, Mayor Newsom showed off the city's newly renovated emergency operations center. He was asked about recent reports that the city missed its emergency medical response goals more than a quarter of the time. The cases involved more than 400 people who died, although it's impossible to say if the delays directly caused the deaths.

"We're not being defensive here. We recognize we can do more and we can do better. But to acknowledge some of the progress that's been made and the fact that we have hired in the last few months 11 new dispatchers, we have increased training, we are doing automatic vehicle locators," said Mayor Newsom.

Newsom says response times are getting better. They averaged a little over eight minutes last September and by February had improved a bit, but still not within the city's standards.

"Just from picking up the phone the average was something like 4.5 seconds in September. In February it's 2.5 seconds, so that's reduced just to answer emergency calls," said Emergency Management Director Vicki Hennessy.

There are about 30 vacancies to fill because a number of dispatchers are on medical and maternity leave. There is also a plan to improve translation services to handle non-English speaking callers.

Another plan is to get ambulances out of fire stations and strategically place up to 25 of them at busy intersections throughout the city. Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White said that should start happening in early summer after the graduation of 29 new EMTs.

"It's sort of like a chess board. You're moving the chess pieces on the chess board depending on where they need to be deployed, where the busiest times of day or where responses are so it allows for much more flexibility," said Chief Hayes-White.

The city hopes for quicker response times.


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