911 Crisis: Cell Phone Calls Clog Centers

In some parts of the country, desperate callers to 911 are waiting several minutes for help -- minutes that are crucial in an emergency. Operators are blaming the delays on cell phones.

Paul Rocha says he had to wait 10 minutes to report a serious traffic accident in California.

"I got put on hold," Rocha said. "The music played. Got an automated answer."

Meanwhile, Rocha said a woman was lying in the road with her ankle trapped under a motorcycle.

Officials say the biggest reason the 911 lifeline is clogged is that because of the proliferation of cell phones, several people will often call in about the same incident.

"One incident on the highway or freeway could result in literally hundreds of calls for the same incident," said Assistant Chief Jon Lopey of the California Highway Patrol.

Can't Track Cellular Calls

In California, the highway patrol handled 12 million cell phone calls last year.

The goal is to pick them up in less than 10 seconds, but the Los Angeles Times found CHP dispatch centers in Los Angeles and San Francisco took more than five times that long on average.

The solution to this high-tech problem is very low tech, say officials.

"A lot of it is money. A lot of it is manpower," Lopey said.

Adding to the crisis, about a quarter of 911 centers still don't have the technology to pinpoint where a cellular caller is located, and that can be a matter of life or death.

This week, the Federal Communications Commission proposed a total of $3 million in fines against three cellular companies that missed a deadline to distribute phones with location tracking.

The final frustration for emergency operators? Nuisance calls like this one:

911 caller: Is this Tuesday or Wednesday?

911 operator: Well that's not an emergency, but it's Wednesday.

Next week, "Good Morning America" begins its own investigation into the 911 crisis: Why do so many callers wait so long? Why can't more cell phones be tracked in an emergency? Watch next week for GMA Gets Answers.