Blizzard 911 tapes out; operators to get retrained

April 16, 2011 4:45:37 AM PDT
On Friday, Chicago emergency center officials ordered all 911 operators to undergo retraining after the way some dispatchers handled calls from stranded motorists on the night of the February blizzard.

In Friday night's Intelligence Report: What some callers heard when they called 911 for help on recordings ABC7 obtained late Friday under a Freedom of Information request.

ABC7 received a sampling of recordings from the city, cell phone calls to 911 from motorists stranded on Lake Shore Drive, callers who grew increasingly testy as the snow piled up. Some people made repeated calls for help as their cars were stranded and no rescuers showed up.

At the same time, some city call-takers in the 911 center are heard talking down to desperate motorists.

"We've been here about three hours and we're literally being snowed in, can they send a tow truck or something like that? Nobody's arrived but we're going to get buried alive out here," one caller said.

This phone call is just one of 700 calls from motorists stranded on Lake Shore Drive. People in cars that can't move, many have run out gas and have no heat and help is nowhere to be seen.

Caller: "I'm on the outer drive and people are just, we're going to die out here. We're going to die."

911 operator: "Outer drive and where?"

Caller: "Outer drive near Fullerton"

911 operator: "What's going on out there?" Caller: "Nothing! We've been here for an hour and people are running out of gas. We're gong to have people having heart attacks out here."

911 operator: "Why aren't you going anywhere? I don't understand."

Caller: "We're not going anywhere because nobody is driving. It's just bumper to bumper, not one foot can we go. There's hundreds of thousands of cars out here. That's why we're not driving."

911 operator: "Sir, there is a blizzard out there."

Listen to this full 911 phone call here

The tapes obtained by ABC7 reveal smart-aleck remarks by dispatchers who sometimes seem uninformed about the status of the blizzard response.

Caller: "Is there any estimate on the time they're bringing the warming buses to Lake Shore Drive, for the people who are stranded?"

911 operator: "Can you hold on and let me double check for you, where are you at Lake Shore Drive?"

Here's another excahnge between a caller and a 911 disptacher.

Caller: "Hi, My husband is freezing on Lake Shore Drive and he's been out there since 3. They're in a gold Subaru right at the Fullerton stop, with a Connecticut license plate and their flashers are on, please."

911 operator: "Slow down, slow down, slow down, you said a Gold Subaru, is it a four-door or a two-door?"

Caller: "I don't know, I don't know, I'm going to assume a four door."

Some callers made repeated attempts to get help.

911 operator: "Basically all I'm saying is we can't give you a timeframe but they'll be out there as soon as possible."

Caller: "It's been stuck for almost five hours now."

911 operator: "You and hundreds of other people, sir. It's not just you."

Other dispatchers simply reinforced the helplessness that stranded motorists already felt.

911 operator: "There are over a thousand people up and down Lake Shore Drive in the same situation that you're in. We can't help them all at the same time.

ABC7 learned that some of the dispatchers on duty during the blizzard will undergo mandatory counseling because of how they treated callers. They will also participate in basic training.

ABC7 was also told that hundreds of dispatchers at the 911 center will have to take a refresher course on how to deal with stressful situations.