Last Week Tonight took a look at the 911 system across the United States, and examined how a lack of funding and modernized systems can often be dangerous.
Before discussing the need for funding and technological upgrades, host John Oliver and the team at Last Week Tonight launched into a topic almost as frustrating: "Rome burning in man form", Donald Trump. Earlier this week news recirculated that 1990s Trump invented a publicist for himself and pretended to be him on the phone. This publicist, named John Miller, sounded "so perfectly Donald Trump" that the ruse wasn't maintained for long. In fact, when the story first broke in the 1990s, Trump admitted that he was indeed John Miller. Yet, earlier this week, Trump denied posing as Miller. In order to suss out the truth, Oliver extended an invitation to Miller to appear on the show. Not Trump, "who has never and will never be invited to appear on this show", mind you, but Miller. And, as Oliver pointed out, the only reason he wouldn't appear is the fact that he "obviously doesn't exist".
After briefly discussing the Queen's comments to Chinese delegates and Budweiser's rebranding, Oliver began discussing the show's main focus: the 911 system. Despite the importance of 911, and the faith we have in the system, errors can occur. In some cases, these errors can be fatal. Oliver highlighted one case where a woman died because first responders couldn't locate her. The woman knew exactly where she was, but 911 dispatch didn't have the technology to find her location on their maps. The Federal Communications Commission estimates that over 10,000 lives could be saved just by upgrading location technology.
In many municipalities, 911 centres are faced with a lack of funding, being understaffed, and being filled with outdated technology. The location detection issues are often caused by the ubiquitous use of cell phones. In many cases, 911 centres can't tell the precise location of a cell phone caller. This is despite the technology being available to places like Facebook and even Domino's. This begs the question of why "Ubers can find you better than ambulances can", which isn't an easy one to answer. Even 6 years from now, twenty percent of callers still won't be located though 911's systems.
Even if the location is fixed, it won't solve all of the issues facing 911 dispatchers. In some states, like Georgia for example, there is a 911 advisory committee, but there's currently no member appointed to the committee. Having a fully staffed committee is vital; there needs to be a body overseeing this important system. There have been talks for years about upgrading 911 systems to accept video calling and even text messaging, which, as Oliver points out, could be extremely useful in situations where a person in an emergency can't make a call, such as domestic violence or home invasion. Yet these upgrades remain just talk, given that there seems to be no real push to turn this into action.
Another huge issue facing 911 centres is the fact that they are dramatically understaffed. Oliver pointed out that 911 staffing issues are one of those things that many cities have in common, "like a Chinatown or a statue of someone racist". An understaffed dispatch centre can result in callers being placed on hold, rather than connected to emergency services.
This all may be shocking to those who pay attention to their phone bills - nearly every bill has a 911 service fee on it, which is one of the few service fees we tend to complain about. However, in many states, they have redistributed a major portion of these funds for other purposes, still leaving the 911 system drained, poorly staffed and with inadequate technology.
While there is very little Last Week Tonight can do to improve this system, they did propose that until 911 services receive adequate funding, the least we can do is show more accurate Public Service Announcements about 911. The segment ended with a brilliant mock PSA, teaching kids about the way 911 really works.
"I understand the genuine part in the same way that Miller Genuine Draft is genuine. It is the shitty thing that it is."
"Trump and the Republican establishment are like a teenaged Christian couple who have taken an abstinence pledge. They are going to have sex, it's just a matter of time. They just need to make a big show out of resisting it for anyone who might be paying attention."
"Budweiser, America's favourite liquid yeast infection."
"Budweiser is a lot like Trump. They're both known for their terrible taste in frothy heads, they're both the colour of burnt urine, and every once in a while they both seem to change their name for no fucking reason whatsoever."
"...unless of course you have AT&T because then you can only get reception standing on a chair right by your living room window, as long as it's not cloudy."
"You never want to be in a situation where you actually have to tell someone 'I'm inside you right now.'"
Last Week Tonight will return next week at 11:00 pm on HBO. You can watch the segment on 911 below.