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Chronically Understaffed Dispatch Centers Leave 911 Calls Unanswered

Chronically Understaffed Dispatch Centers Leave 911 Calls Unanswered


We’ve showcased the downfalls of the 911 service, how Covid-19 has affected call wait times, and how 911 is used and abused on our blog before.

But another glaring problem with our public dispatch service is coming to light in multiple states across the country…

One that’s affecting how quickly people can get help from emergency services.

Dispatcher centers nationwide are chronically understaffed, and naturally, the public is experiencing the fallout.

Keep reading as we explore what caused this ongoing issue, how affected states are handling it, and what you can do to make sure you get the help you need in an emergency.

Public Fallout

Residents of Tallahassee, Florida, are growing distressed with a recent spike in 911 wait times, with some calls even going unanswered.

The director of the agency in charge of taking all 911 calls in the Tallahassee and Leon County areas – The Consolidated Dispatch Agency or CDA – stated that they would need to hire thirty more people to meet their staffing needs.

Confused by the disruption in service, one local even posted on social media, asking: 

“Are there no 911 services after 6pm?”

Of course, when a major traffic accident or other big emergency happens, even a well-staffed dispatch center can get backed up…

But unfortunately, these delays are occurring regardless of the local situation. 

Even worse, it’s become a pattern in cities across America, with dispatch centers in Jefferson County, Colorado, Jackson, Mississippi, Durham, North Carolina, and Cincinnati, Ohio, unable to handle calls due to lack of proper staffing.

Danger in Durham

Durham has been especially affected, reporting major delays and even a high number of errors made by overworked dispatchers picking up an overwhelming amount of slack:

“Durham firefighters reported at least 46 dispatching errors or concerns this year, after staffing shortages at the city’s 911 center forced Raleigh operators to answer nearly 1 in 10 incoming calls.

There were 26 vacant positions out of a total of 60 at the Durham Emergency Communications Center, a city spokesperson told The News & Observer this month. Three of 18 call-taking positions were vacant, she said.”

Locals who dial 911 have regularly heard the phone ring for around thirty seconds before being rerouted to Raleigh operators.  

In the emergency response industry, wait times and personnel shortages like these are unheard of…

And naturally, with less than a skeleton crew to work with, the few dispatchers who are on staff have a sea of extra calls to field, which can prevent them from providing the comprehensive service they usually do when there’s a full team on staff to back them up.

A recent analysis by the Center for American Progress and the Law Enforcement Action Partnership showed that up to 34% of 911 calls involve life-threatening emergencies.

With numbers like these, it can’t be overstated how dangerous an issue like this can be. With lives on the line, one missed call is all it takes.

What’s Causing the Staffing Issues?

There’s no black and white answer to the root cause of these problems, but the pandemic has undoubtedly been the driving factor.

Combined with the high stress and low pay that comes with being a 911 dispatcher, it’s understandable why emergency call centers are having trouble filling seats.

In Tallahassee, the starting pay for operators is $14.97 per hour. 

With forty hours of intensive training in various health and safety fields, ongoing coursework, the stress of every new call potentially being a life-threatening situation, AND the dangers associated with covid, new hires don’t seem to think the reward is worth the risk.

How Are States Responding?

To solve the staffing shortage, the director of the CDA in Tallahassee has reached out to city budget officials about raising the minimum rate and providing incentives to new employees.

In Durham, the dispatch center has resorted to re-hiring former and retired operators, and “had eight staff members in training as of May.”

Hopefully, as covid risk slowly declines, the problem will solve itself. But without a wage raise, there’s no telling how long this issue will persist.

Don’t Wait. Get Help Instantly With the Rescu App

Experts recommend that if you call 911 and run into lengthy delays, whatever you do, don’t hang up!

Cutting the call short will forfeit your spot in line, extending your wait even further.

But as long as you have a smartphone, you can avoid this problem altogether with the Rescu app.

Whether you live in any of the areas listed above or you simply don’t want to have to worry about experiencing delays at all, Rescu lets you send for help without having to say a word over the phone.

All you have to do is select fire, police, or medical services, and then you can send emergency responders to your pre-registered address instantly.

This mobile medical alert system relies on a private dispatch center dedicated to subscribers only, eliminating the risk of lengthy wait times.

At Rescu, we believe even one unanswered call is too many. You and your family deserve the peace of mind that comes with knowing the help you need is just two taps away.

Click below now to download Rescu today on the Apple Store or Google Play. Subscriptions start at just $7 a month.

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