Durham 911 call center impacted by COVID-related staffing shortage

Durham County News

DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) — When you call 911, you expect the person who answers to at least be in your county. In Durham, CBS 17 has learned that might not be the case. The City of Raleigh confirms they’re taking some of Durham’s calls because of a staffing shortage.

The Director of Durham’s 911 call center, Randy Beeman, said the staffing problem is COVID related but he wouldn’t say how many employees tested positive or even how many employees it involves.

“It definitely poses a concern because you want an emergency to be responded to in a timely manner,” Elizabeth Glynn, a Durham resident said.

According to the city’s website, 75 of its employees tested positive for the virus. That’s up to nine from last week.

“It’s concerning but it’s kinda that nature of the times we’re in,” Glenn Newman, a Durham resident said.

In response to CBS 17’s questions, Beeman sent this letter:

“Durham Emergency Communication – 911 is experiencing COVID impact like almost all city departments. While the City has been promoting and enforcing strong public health measure in our workplaces, recent community trends have resulted in increased positive cases among city employees. We are taking proactive measures to ensure the highest level of service to Durham 911 callers. For several months, we have been in discussions with our neighbors in the Raleigh-Wake 911 center to explore opportunities for the departments to help each other in times of particularly heavy 911 traffic. Both communications center utilizes the statewide ESiNet network that provides seamless telephone connections between 911 centers and we are leveraging those technologies and capabilities. The state agency that supports local 911 operations is actively moving all call centers to this platform in approximate 2 years.

While Durham 911 has adequate staff to continue to answer all typical calls in our community, we are grateful for the support of our partners in Raleigh-Wake to assist us if we receive unusually high call volumes. The only time a call may be answered at the Raleigh 911 center is on those occasions of unusual surge of calls. In a circumstance where there are more callers than available calltakers in Durham, the call will seamlessly be routed to available calltakers in Raleigh. The 911 operator will take the information, then that information will be transmitted back to Durham where the call will be dispatched by Durham dispatchers.
To comply with HIPPA rules and regulations, the City of Durham does not provide public information regarding employees’ medical statuses. Please rest assured that the City follows CDC guidelines to keep our employees as safe as possible. In the event that there is a positive diagnosis, we follow CDC, Durham County Public Health Department, and City policies to include notifying associated employees who are then placed under quarantine and deep cleaning of work spaces. The safety of our employees and their families at this uncertain time continues to be a high priority for the City.”

These measures took effect Tuesday at noon and since then Beeman said Raleigh has taken 74 of their calls. He stressed all calls are dispatched in a timely manner.

There is no word on how long Raleigh’s help will be needed.

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