August 26th, 2006

Emergency services suck.

So I needed to call the Austin police department from Pennsylvania.

Step 1: Call Sprint's directory assistance.

"Is this an emergency?" "Well, it's in response to a suicide note I got through the internet but it's 12 hours old at this point, so not exactly time critical." Despite asking them three times for the number for Austin Texas police, they insist that I hang up and call 911. All right.

Step 2: Call 911.

I am in pennsylvania. Austin is in texas. The allegheny county PA 911 people can't help in the slightest, nor can they transfer me (they are apologetic about this) and it takes a while to get my phone out of "emergency mode" afterwards. (Why did it do this? Look, I called a phone number. I have now finished calling that number, and closed and re-opened the phone twice. I didn't put the thing INTO emergency mode, I just called a PHONE NUMBER. Shut up with the orange text and give me my phone back.)

Step 3: Call sprint directory information back.

Explain at great length that calling 911 from Pennsylvania does not help me reach the police in Texas. Yes a suicide note on Livejournal. It's part of the internet. In-ter-net. Yes, I got a suicide note through the... Thank you. They agree to do their job and give me the darn phone number.

With sprint, this means the human goes away and you get a recorded message which says they're transferring you to (512) some number. I start looking for a pen and paper. (Normally what I do is hang up on the transfer I didn't ask for and dial the number back immediately so it's in my outgoing calls, but I've been known to misdial and this was a pain to get.) Recording blathers on at great length: If I want this number sent to me as a text message, press 1. Normal text messaging rates will apply. (I blocked text messaging when I started getting text message spam.) To repeat this number, press 2 (still can't find a pen so I press 2. Nothing happens. It starts connecting me with the austin police, ok, pay attention to that:)

The austin police recording says if this is an emergency, hang up and dial 911 (oh JOY) and that my call is important to them and will be answered in the order it was received or some such. Right. Wait. Wait some more. There may have been muzak, I wasn't paying attention. After a couple minutes the recording repeats. After the second repeat it says I can press 1 to leave a voicemail message. At this point, anything's an improvement, so I hit 1.

The voicemail system gives me a 30 second recording that ends by telling me that this extension number is not properly configured and it can't leave a message, and it's going to hang up now. At which point it does. BRILLIANT.

Step 4: Call Sprint back, ask for the University of Texas police.

Explain to sprint that I need the university of texas police, specifically, and that I'm in pennsylvania. This time I get escalated to a supervisor, who stays on the line and does a 3-way call transferring me. I get handed off from a human to another human. That's more like it.

I explain the situation to the UT guy, who stops me halfway through to ask for an address... and almost groans when I give him the address. he says he hates to tell me this but that's outside their jurisdicton. However (continuing the theme of this call of actually having intelligent people trying to accomplish stuff), he's going to try to transfer me to the Austin 911 system. (I hear him asking around if anybody else in the office knows how to do that.) This takes a couple minutes, and while I do so he warns me not to tell this new person "west campus" because I'll just get transferred back to the UTPD, but instead give them the address directly. He also gives me _his_ number to call him back if this doesn't work, which I type into a text file on my laptop (still no pen/paper). Eventually they figure out how to transfer me to a new person.

So, I run through it again: suicide note through the internet, it's from last night, here's the address... And the lady on the phone goes "We've already gotten reports about that address". She asks for the name of the person, I give it, and they confirm yes that's the person and that "officers have been there". She confirms he's ok, and gives me the vague impression he's been hospitalized or some such (which at this point comes as something of a relief). Open case, being worked. She asks if I want to be contacted with updates, and agree and give her my phone number (explaining that the texas phone number is a cell phone which is currently in pennsylvania).

Result:

Luckily I got a run of competent people on the fourth attempt. Next time I want to get help for friends in Texas, I should skip the middle man and just look the University of Texas information desk up on the UT website. (Even if next time they don't live anywhere near UT, it seems that competent people are more likely to hand you off to other competent people, and stay on the line until this actually occurs. So starting with local competent people to begin with: good thing.)
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