Man says 911 center slow to respond to Audubon racing

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wwltv.com

Posted on April 21, 2014 at 6:12 PM

Updated Monday, Apr 21 at 8:26 PM

Paul Murphy / Eyewitness News
Email: pmurphy@wwltv.com | Twitter: @pmurphywwl

NEW ORLEANS -- There's another apparent example of slow response by call takers at the Orleans Parish 911 center when a man tried to report dangerous activity at Audubon Park.

More than a half dozen ATVs and motorcycles tore up the grass near the entrance of the park on Easter Sunday.

Monday, it was easy to spot fresh tire tracks and divots on the ground between Magazine Street and the running and biking path.

Ken Barnhart was practicing in the park with his flag football team around 6 p.m. when the 4-wheelers passed by. He called 911.

"We didn't get a response," said Barnhart. "It rang for over a minute and thirty seconds, so we hung up and tried back subsequently two more times and it was the third attempt, over 25 rings, for them to pick up the phone."

The Orleans Parish Communications District confirms Barnhart's difficulty reaching a 911 operator. His first call rang for nearly two minutes before Barnhart hung up. The second call rang for 1 minute and 15 seconds before he abandoned the call. The third call rang for one minute and 27 seconds before an operator finally picked up.

Barnhart said he also tried calling the center's non-emergency line.

OPCD Executive Director Stephen Gordon said Barnhart's call would have likely been handled quicker had he stayed on the line, rather than hanging up.

"The two abandoned calls from the citizen (calls #1 and #2) were kept in the queue to be answered and it took the times listed below before the two abandoned calls were sent to a call taker," said Gordon.

The citizen had already abandoned his two calls before they were distributed to call takers. The call taker received the abandoned calls and the call taker called the citizen back (call #4).

Barnhart describes a chaotic scene with the vehicles riding close to families enjoying Easter picnics and kids playing the park.

"We got a little concerned when they started to get a little aggressive, spinning some circles there and doing some wheelies on grass," said Barnhart. "(I was) worried that a kid was going to get hit."

To make matters worse, Barnhart said a woman activated one of the park's emergency call boxes and nobody responded.

"The lights were flashing on the call box," said Barnhart. "We were there for 20 minutes on scene and nobody showed up as a result of the call box."

Audubon Park spokesman Frank Donze released this statement about the incident:

"The emergency call stations located in Audubon Park and along the Riverview, known as the Fly, are tested several times daily by security officers. All phones were functioning properly on Easter Sunday, which is one of the busiest days of the year in Audubon Park. The call boxes dial directly to the Audubon mobile phone unit which patrols the park around the clock. If the call from Audubon Park near Magazine Street came around 6 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., that coincides with the time period when Audubon security officers and New Orleans police officers were dealing with several all-terrain vehicles that were causing issues on the Riverview. The drivers of those vehicles were instructed to leave the area. Vehicular traffic on the Riverview and the accompanying crowds were especially heavy around 6 p.m. Sunday. The road leading to the Riverview was closed periodically to vehicular traffic on Easter Sunday to help manage traffic flow. Safety for our guests is a top priority."

The NOPD also sent a statement about the incident:

"An officer was dispatched to the location at 6:40 P.M. The officer arrived on scene at 6:52 P.M and it was marked up unfounded at 7:23 PM. The officer did not observe any signs of ATVs in the area."

Barnhart said he and his wife are now having second thoughts about building a house in New Orleans.

"I'm sympathetic to the cause. However, this has got to be fixed," said Barnhart. "This is an emergency situation."

Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Homeland Security Jerry Sneed released this statement:

“Our public safety agencies are aggressively working to increase operator staffing and to improve our call center management performance. Within the last month, we have begun the hiring process for 10 new complaint operators and are actively looking for qualified applicants. The safety of our residents is always our top priority."

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