Confusion delays EMT response to crash

February 16, 2011 6:57:10 AM PST
We have a warning from a good Samaritan about a stretch of highway that's causing problems for emergency responders. The area is so new, most mapping systems don't have it. And that's the problem.

That good Samaritan says he knows the area well. He's lived here his entire life. But when he called 911 last weekend he felt like he was in no-man's land.

As a mobile service provider, Art Tirado sees a lot on the roads, driving almost 80 miles a day. On Saturday, he left his home around 9:30am.

"I saw the tan Corolla go under the freeway, make a right on the wrong direction on the feeder," Tirado said.

He initially lost track of the driver, then saw her again swerving in and out of cars in the wrong direction on the newly opened section of US 90 on the east side. It connects the beltway to the Interstate 10/Highway610 interchange.

Tirado tried to warn her, honking continuously and calling 911, giving a detailed description.

"Heading towards the 90 approach ramp from I-10 and the 610 intersection near the Budweiser plant, and she still kept insisting I was in Katy, that I was in a different part of Houston, it wasn't Houston and she had no record of that highway being built, open ... or existing for that matter," he said.

He says he was having a hard time convincing the dispatcher exactly where he was.

"It exists. It's not my imagination," Tirado said.

He believes the call taker thought he was on the west side, where Highway 90 splits off I-10 into Katy. After all, even when we drove the new highway, it looks like you are off-roading even on Google maps.

"It felt like you were talking to a call center in a different city or a different state," Tirado said.

He says within about five miles, that driver had a head-on collision.

A spokesperson for the Houston Emergency Center confirms the new roadway is not in their system.

Eventually, call takers were able to dispatch emergency services to the location by overriding the system and using the caller's description and working with several agencies to try and fix this problem.

Houston police say the 83-year-old driver who was going the wrong way died a few hours after the crash.

While Tirado isn't sure the crash could have been avoided, the response confusion has him very concerned.

"Even the police officer, when I talked to him, said do yourself a favor and don't get in trouble in this stretch of the freeway because we may not be able to find you," Tirado said.

He hopes first responders can get accurate information more quickly.

"I hope it sets a fire under someone's seat to get something done," Tirado said.

There are police officers patrolling the area but the problem comes when dispatchers are taking a call and then trying to direct officers to a specific location.