No lost 911 call in Port Ludlow

Posted 6/26/19

There was no missing 911 call.

That was what JeffCom Director Karl Hatton was able to determine after he saw Port Ludlow resident Judy Oberto’s phone records for April 25.

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No lost 911 call in Port Ludlow

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There was no missing 911 call.

That was what JeffCom Director Karl Hatton was able to determine after he saw Port Ludlow resident Judy Oberto’s phone records for April 25.

Oberto had called 911 on April 25 after 79-year-old David Mathis, the Bridgehaven Water District Manager at Port Ludlow, collapsed near the end of a monthly community potluck.

All of Hatton’s records indicated that the first call JeffCom 911 received regarding Mathis was 6:40 p.m. and the first unit arrived on the scene 12 minutes after it was dispatched.

But Oberto vividly recalled dialing 911 and reaching a dispatcher by 6:04 p.m., so until Hatton could see her phone records for that day, he didn’t want to rule out the possibility that she was correct, even though he was all but convinced by the strength of his evidence before he and Oberto spoke at the June 5 community meeting at Port Ludlow Fire and Rescue Station 33.

“You never want to say you’re 100% sure, but I would have been incredibly surprised,” Hatton said. “When you’re in an emergency situation, whether you’re calling 911 or acting as a first responder, time changes. She estimated the call lasted 10 or 15 minutes, but when we verified the call was made at 6:40 p.m. rather than 6:04 p.m., we also verified it lasted 6 minutes and 15 seconds.”

Listening to Oberto’s 6:40 p.m. call also confirmed for Hatton that it was her first call to 911 about Mathis, given how she reported the situation.

“There’s no way this was a second-time call,” Hatton said. “There was no, ‘It’s been nearly 40 minutes since I last called,’ and we received three or four other 911 calls, all at the same time. I was absolutely concerned when I first heard her say that she’d called at 6:04 p.m., because a lost call should never happen, but not only did we not receive it, but Snohomish, Kitsap, Island, Clallam and Mason counties, none of them received this supposed 6:04 p.m. call either.”

During this same incident, Kitsap transferred two or three other 911 cell phone calls that they realized were meant for JeffCom.

“The problem with any cell phone call is that it reaches the closest tower with the best reception, but those towers could be in Clallam, Jefferson or even Victoria, B.C.,” Hatton said. “That’s a common problem for the whole country, when it comes to 911 calls.”

Hatton acknowledged that pizza delivery drivers often have a better ability to track cell phone call locations than 911 systems do, but he emphasized that at least part of that stems from legislation precluding 911 systems from accessing certain data available to private companies.

“These frustrations have already been expressed to the FCC,” Hatton said. “But unless there’s an investment of multiple billions of dollars, 911 systems are affected by the numbers and locations of cell phone towers, and that’s the reality we’re facing for the foreseeable future.”

To accommodate this reality, regardless of what county you live in or are calling from, Hatton advised prospective 911 callers to be aware of the location of the emergency.

“The first question we ask is, ‘Where is your emergency?’” Hatton said. “Always pay attention to what road you’re on, and what milepost you’re at. In the old days of 911 calls, we’d usually get a single call from a land line. Now, 80% of our calls are from cell phones, often 10 or 12 at a time, and we sort through who seems to have the best information and location. If the address is unfamiliar, we’ll ask what county.”

Port Ludlow Fire Chief Brad Martin expressed pride in the level of advanced technology that constitutes the county’s 911 system, even as he seconded Hatton in pointing out the deficits of the wireless infrastructure that supplies many of its calls.

“We have zero control over how those calls get to us,” Martin said. “That being said, while you never want to say that your response time to a 911 call was ‘good,’ our response time on April 25 was very appropriate for the rural location of the call.”

“Our 911 system worked exactly the way it’s supposed to work,” Hatton agreed.

Efforts to reach Oberto for comment were unsuccessful.

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