Street racing incidents: Austin City Council member questions 911 wait times

The February 18 "street takeover" led to the city’s 911 call center receiving four times the normal number of calls. The influx caused callers to wait an extended period before speaking to a dispatcher including an Austin City Council member.

It was chaos that all began at the intersection of Barton Springs Road and South Lamar Blvd. Saturday night.

Austin Police say a car club blocked traffic at the popular intersection for nearly 45 minutes doing donuts, setting off fireworks, and pushing back police all while causing a traffic jam.

"We could see the fireworks. We could see people who were sitting on the back of trucks. We saw people with ski masks," said council member Alison Alter.

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Alter says she was on her way back home from dinner with her family when she saw the entire incident unfold right before her eyes. Luckily, she was able to get out of there and call 911.

"We called 911 and waited and waited and waited and waited 28 minutes before they responded," she said.

For 28 minutes, Council member Alter says she heard the automatic hold message. As the waiting game played out, Alter says she could not help herself, but think what if this was a life or death situation?

"What if we had a heart attack? What if there was some emergency where people had been needing to access EMS and you couldn't get you couldn't get through?" Alter questioned.

In a statement released by Mayor of Austin Kirk Watson, he said 911 wait times were a significant issue that night. He says the city’s 911 call center was flooded and received four times the normal amount of calls that night.

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"This is a direct management failure of City Manager Cronk and the police department who have known about a challenge with 911 for more than 18 months," said Alter.

Last week, Austin City Council fired City Manager Spencer Cronk following his leadership during the winter storm. Alter says he also failed at finding solutions to fix the 911 call center's staffing issues and hopes the new Interim City Manager Jesus Garza will change that.

"I really think we have an opportunity now with the new city manager to think outside the box and put in place the solutions that should have been put in place a long time ago," she said.

Alter says the 911 wait times have nothing to do with the city's police contract negotiations. Those working in the call center are largely non-sworn personnel.