50% of Sedgwick Co. 911 calls answered by automated message

Short staffing and retention are main issues
According to the data, 50 percent of the calls placed to Sedgwick County 911 will be answered by an automated message.
Published: May. 4, 2023 at 5:51 PM CDT
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - When you call 911 for an emergency in Sedgwick County, half of the time, it won’t be answered by a real person. It’s answered by what the county calls its “queue,” which is an automated recording message. It tells you that you’ve reached Sedgwick County 911, that all dispatchers are busy handling other emergency calls and not to hang up.

The county said staffing shortages and competitive pay markets are affecting 911 dispatch centers across the nation and right here in Kansas.

For four months, FactFinder 12 has gathered data and broken down the total number of 911 calls Sedgwick County received last year and compared it to the number of calls that were answered by the automated message.


January-December average

Total 911 calls:Total number of calls queued:Percentage of calls queued:

Daily average

Total 911 calls:Total number of calls queued:Percentage of calls queued:

Hourly average

Total 911 calls:Total number of calls queued:Percentage of calls queued:

Once the calls are in the queue, the automated message will play. The calls are answered in the order they’re received, so the county advises to not hang up the phone because it will only cause you more delay.

FactFinder 12 also wanted to know, once you’re in the queue, how long do you wait before the line is answered by a 911 employee?

The county said the average time a person waits in the queue is about five seconds. But, the county said, there are outliers where people could be waiting minutes before the call is answered by an employee.

We focused on the data of 911′s slowest time, or when they received the least number of calls, and compared it to the busiest time, or when they received the most number of calls.

Which time could you be waiting longer? Here’s a look at the data in 2022 broken down hour by hour.


Time of day:Number of calls:Average time waiting in queue:
12 a.m.13,0413.8 seconds
1 a.m.10,7573.3 seconds
2 a.m.9,4062.0 seconds
3 a.m.7,6562.0 seconds
4 a.m.6,7191.7 seconds
5 a.m.6,8911.5 seconds
6 a.m.8,9212.0 seconds
7 a.m.13,3392.9 seconds
8 a.m.16,2133.2 seconds
9 a.m.18,6573.5 seconds
10 a.m.20,1353.5 seconds
11 a.m.22,2434.3 seconds
12 p.m.23,2774.7 seconds
1 p.m.23,9815.2 seconds
2 p.m.24,7295.6 seconds
3 p.m.26,8755.3 seconds
4 p.m.28,2896.0 seconds
5 p.m.29,3278.2 seconds
6 p.m.26,8607.0 seconds
7 p.m.24,7446.5 seconds
8 p.m.24,0326.2 seconds
9 p.m.22,3315.6 seconds
10 p.m.19,8176.5 seconds
11 p.m.15,6885.0 seconds

You can see in the data, the 5 p.m. rush hour is the busiest time for Sedgwick County 911. Dispatch said it is most likely due to crashes that dozens of people may see and call 911.

The industry goal for 911 employees is to answer a 911 call in 15 seconds or less. FactFinder 12 wanted to know if that goal is being met and how long it takes for an employee to answer the phone.

Data for calls in 15 seconds or less

Year:% of calls answered within 15 seconds

When Charles Lene saw his home on fire, he immediately called 911. But, he said, he was shocked when it wasn’t answered by a real person.

“I thought, it can’t be busy because it’s 911. It’s not supposed to ever be busy. It was just kind of breathtaking. If there had been a person in there, there wouldn’t have been a chance. That extra minute or two can make the difference,” said Lene.

He’s not the only person living in Sedgwick County that this has happened to.

“When you’re on the phone at that point and it’s an emergency, it seems like it’s hours upon hours,” said Mary Camerrer, who frequently calls 911 for her daughter with special needs.

Camerrer said her daughter sometimes runs away into traffic. She said she calls 911 and when the automated message picks up, it makes her feel helpless, hopeless and frustrated.

The director for the Sedgwick County 911 center, Elora Forshee, said the goal is for you to never have to hear that automated message.

“We are always looking ahead to what we can do to staff to that anticipated call volume. But, then there’s always going to be events that we don’t foresee or that we have no idea are coming. So, we’ll never be able to eliminate that completely, from that happening and people hitting that queue,” said Forshee.

Right now, the 911 center is meeting minimum staffing levels with 104 full-time employees. With the minimum staffing levels, Forshee said many of the employees have to do mandatory overtime to help.

“We do have minimum staffing levels, we hire overtime to meet those minimum staffing levels. But, we’d like to have way more staff on hand, all the time,” said Forshee. “We are putting steps into place to make sure we have room for staff, we’re remodeling our 911 center to make sure that we’ve got plenty of desks available to fill those seats and to have people there to answer the calls. We’re working through hiring initiatives, we have the pay increase, things like that to make sure that we have plenty of people on hand.”

FactFinder 12 requested data on how much employees are currently paid at Sedgwick County 911. Forshee said the county recently approved an increase in pay to address staffing shortages.

2022 and 2023:

Year:Call taker hourly compensation:Dispatcher I hourly compensation:Dispatcher II hourly compensation:Supervisor hourly compensation:
20.00% change14.98% change15.02% change15.00% change

The county said some of the biggest factors that tie up phone lines are accidental dials and multiple people calling about the same emergency. Right now, the county does not have a non-emergency line so employees could transfer 911 calls that don’t require EMS, fire departments or police departments.

Every time you call 911, it could be a life-altering call and the seconds or minutes you’re on the phone, could mean life or death for some.

That’s why Lene said he never wants another person to go through what he did when he saw flames coming from his home, called 911 and heard the automated message.

“I was just shocked that I got an automation and not a live person. There’s a lot of lives at stake there. Somebody needs to do something, it’s got to be fixed. You can’t continue that,” said Lene.

Forshee said, 911 is working on it.

“We are really just trying to serve in the best way that we can through a growing team. We just ask for our community to recognize that and be patient and we want your trust in your 911 system. We are doing all that we can to make sure that that trust remains,” said Forshee.

Those calling in Sedgwick County have a 50% chance the 911 call will be answered by an automated message. The county said it’s important you don’t hang up once you hear that message because it will just cause you more delay because, most of the time, it takes about 5 seconds for a real person to answer the phone.