NEW YORK -- The one minute, 52 seconds a Hicksville woman was on hold before she could report a stabbing to Nassau 911 operators last Saturday night falls into a very small, but predictable share of emergency calls that simply wind up waiting.
In an era when cell phones have increased caller traffic to 911, a hold time like that doesn't shock the head of the Nassau police department's 911 center. "For the month of July, we had over 77,000 calls," explained Insp. John Fitzwilliam, commander of the communications bureau.
The department answered 77,753 calls, to be exact - 91 percent of them within 10 seconds, police say.
But there are times when calls fielded by the bureau's standard crew of seven civilian dispatchers spikes so dramatically that it can't keep up.
Three percent, or 2,137 callers, had to wait more than 40 seconds on hold last month, said police spokesman Tony Repalone.
Cell phones, which make up the majority of 911 calls to Nassau these days, are most commonly cited by emergency officials in explaining delays though they offer no statistics to support that conclusion.
"If we get a single accident on the expressway, it's not uncommon to have 30 or 40 calls come in within two or three minutes," Fitzwilliam said. "You can't fault them for trying to do the right thing. But if you get 30 or 40 calls at the same time, it floods the system."
Police cited no single incident that flooded the dispatch center on Saturday evening. Last night, police could not cite figures showing that cell phones have led to an overall increase in long wait times.
Nor could the National Emergency Number Association, an industry group for the "public safety answering points" that field 911 calls. An association guideline calls for answering 911 calls within 10 seconds, said Roger Hixson, its technical issues director - a guideline Nassau meets.
"Two minutes is certainly longer than usual, but if they have a flurry of calls, it's quite possible that there could be wait times like that. I wouldn't say it's typical, but it's not unique," Hixson said.
Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi did not return calls seeking comment.
Fitzwilliam has strong advice for anyone who dials 911 and winds up hearing a hold message. "Stay on the line," he said. "If you hang up and call again, you'll go back on [end of the] the waiting list. Just have patience.
"If you're the caller, if you have ever been on that end, you know it seems forever. Time becomes hard to comprehend, and every second is just multiplied waiting for help."