NBC 5 Investigates

If You Call Chicago 911 and Don't Know Your Street Address, Will the Dispatcher Send Help?

The city now promises change after an NBC 5 Chicago investigation

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Three weeks after NBC 5 Chicago Investigates first exposed a controversial 911 call for help -- in which a man was delayed in having dispatchers send an ambulance for nearly ten minutes -- the City of Chicago now says “more should have been done,” to help him, and says it’s now making changes in its Office of Emergency Management and Communications as a direct result of NBC 5 Chicago’s investigation.

While an OEMC spokesperson says the office has "reprimanded" two dispatchers and issued some new guidelines, no one from OEMC is willing, yet, to go on camera to answer NBC 5’s most basic question: 

How could the case of Duane Raible seem to defy so many rules of common sense?

Early in the morning of Oct. 2, Raible – of Bangor, Pennsylvania -- was on a business trip in Chicago, alone in his room at a Gold Coast hotel, when he started having symptoms of a severe stroke. 

“The whole room went bizarre," he said. “I almost passed out. I pushed myself back onto the bed, and lay down, and I realized right then and there, 'something’s really wrong.'”

Raible couldn’t walk, and therefore couldn't reach the hotel phone, so he called 911 on his cell phone.  

Repeatedly, Raible told the 911 dispatcher that he was at the Thompson Chicago Hotel. And – repeatedly – the dispatcher insisted she could not send an ambulance until Raible gave her the hotel's street address. 

“Sir, I’m trying to send you an ambulance” she told him, “and without an address, I can’t do that, so I’m simply asking you to look on a business card, or your receipt, or – whenever you checked in the hotel, there’s got to be an address there.”

Over the course of several minutes, Raible gave the dispatcher several clear symptoms of stroke – he was dizzy; his face was going numb; he had trouble speaking, and he couldn’t walk.  And he mentioned the hotel name three times, but the dispatcher continued to insist on a street address. 

“I’m not there, you are,” she told him. “So I need you to help yourself here, a little bit, and get us an address, so that we can get you an ambulance.”

Try this: Stop reading this article for a moment and search the web for the Thompson Chicago Hotel.  

You probably found the address in a matter of seconds.

So why couldn’t the dispatcher?

When NBC 5 Investigates first contacted the city about Duane Raible’s story, an OEMC spokesperson would say only that Chicago’s 911 dispatchers don’t have access to the internet on their dispatch system for security reasons.  NBC 5 countered with several other options: What about a dispatcher’s smartphone?  How about other computers in the building?  How about getting someone else to look up the address? How about calling Raible back? How about sending out a request to police and fire departments to look up the address? How about calling the hotel? How about calling 411 information? How about the Yellow Pages? How about a basic map?

Finally, after more than a week of these questions from NBC 5, OEMC officials finally acknowledged that dispatchers can indeed find an address, by illuminating a light on their desk, which signals that they need help from a supervisor. The supervisor can bring over a laptop and quickly search the web for whatever the dispatcher might need -- like the street address of a hotel.

But that didn’t happen here. In fact, that early morning in his room, Raible eventually felt he had no choice but to hang up from the 911 operator.   

“She wasn’t listening to me, and I didn’t know the address,” he said.  “I finally got frustrated. I hung up from 911..and now I’m lying in the bed, staring at the ceiling, thinking, ‘this is it.’”

Raible still couldn’t walk or reach the hotel phone. And the dispatchers were not calling him back, despite the fact that records indicate they had his cell phone number.

"I'm thinking, I have a wife and two children; I'm thinking I'm going to die in the hotel room; I'm thinking that I have no faith that they're going to help me; I'm thinking that I have to figure out how to do this myself."

By this time, nearly seven minutes had gone by since Raible first called for help. 

“Then I had a thought that if I pressed the (iPhone) button, that I could ask Siri for the address," he said.  “So I did that, and Siri reported the address back to me. So I call 911 back, and I’m trying to remember the address.”

But because Raible was so ill, he couldn't see, could barely use his hands, and couldn't remember the address when he called. And the new fire dispatcher appeared to have the same attitude as the first one – that it was up to Raible to supply an address.

“I’m in a hotel and I need help,” Raible told the second dispatcher. “What hotel you in? Where’re you at?” the dispatcher asked. 

Raible repeated that he’s at the Thompson Chicago hotel. 

“Where’s that at?” responded the dispatcher.  

Raible finally was able to say the full address out loud, but the second dispatcher didn't seem to hear. It took another full minute until he asked again.

“Well, where are you?”  Raible answered that he’s in his hotel room. “Yeah, give me the address,” the dispatcher responded. 

Finally, eight and a half minutes after Raible first called for help, a police dispatcher broke in and repeated the address Raible had given earlier. But even then, it took another ninety seconds before the second dispatcher called for an ambulance, OEMC records show.

In all, it took Chicago’s 911 nearly ten full minutes to send an ambulance to Raible.  

“You just type the (hotel name) in on a line and hit ‘search’ and it comes up,” Duane’s wife Robin said. “The fact that it didn’t even occur to them as a possibility, instead of just insisting on him finding an address, is mindblowing.”

“I don’t want anyone else to go through the same situation,” Raible told NBC 5 Investigates. “I believe that training … would definitely alleviate another situation of someone trapped in a hotel, calling 911 for help.”

Raible is now recovering from his severe stroke at home in Pennsylvania.

OEMC now says it has completed its investigation into Duane Raible’s phone calls, but no one from OEMC will talk about it on camera – not about this case and not about whether dispatchers -- as a rule -- should be helping a caller figure out their address.

Instead, a spokeswoman sent NBC5 Investigates the following statement:

“Both Fire Call Takers involved in this incident were disciplined for inefficiency in performing their duties. While they did perform the basics of their duties, they should have sought further supervisory assistance in an attempt to be more helpful to Mr. Raible.

In addition, the employees went through additional training to reinforce policies and procedures in furtherance of our mission to provide an integral service to first responders and the public.  

We acknowledge the urgency of Mr. Raible’s situation, and that more should have been done to proactively assist Mr. Raible during his 9-1-1 calls to gather the necessary information in order to dispatch medical assistance in a timelier manner than what occurred. 

We have implemented the following changes after conducting a review of our 9-1-1 Dispatch Operations to ensure we are providing all 9-1-1 callers the service they need during an emergency:

Issued a new General Order to both Police and Fire Dispatch Operations outlining the various ways 9-1-1 call takers can utilize available resources to locate a resident.  

Ensured Fire Dispatch Operations has laptops available at supervisors’ stations to assist in searching or identifying locations, when needed. 

Conducted roll call training for Police Dispatch Operations staff to remind them of their obligation to stay on a call after a transfer to Fire Dispatch Operations, and to assist during the course of a call, if needed. 

Worked with the Department of Business Affairs and Licensing to obtain active business license information and plans are underway to update commonplace names to the CAD as a result. 

We are actively testing new technology data integration to enhance our ability to obtain better address ranges from cell phone callers. Initial testing of the technology to measure the accuracy of the locations being provided to call takers via the PSAP is very promising, and has shown to significantly increase the accuracy of information provided to the 9-1-1 Center.  

We will continue to work vigorously to strengthen our standard operating procedures to ensure our staff is prepared as possible to provide residents and visitors the help they need.”

“I think what they’re trying to do is put Band-Aids around a bigger problem, and not really go to the heart of the issue and systematically fix what’s broken here,” Raible said. 

“How could they not know where he was?” asks Robin Raible. “But also,  how could they not realize how much trouble he was in?”

“If Duane had lost consciousness and wasn’t able to call back, what would have happened?” she added.

The Raibles say they reached out to both OEMC and Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s office in hopes of maybe changing policy but, they say no one has contacted them.

And no one in the city has ever answered NBC 5’s most simple question as well:  

Next time this happens, will someone at OEMC be willing to look up the address?

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