DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – 911 call pick-up times at the Durham Emergency Communications Center have improved in the last eight months despite half of the center’s 911 operator positions remaining vacant.

CBS 17 broke the story more than a year ago about a shortage of 911 operators and the impact that had on call pick-up times.

The National Emergency Number Association’s (NENA) standard is for 90 percent of calls to be answered in 15 seconds or less.

In August 2021, Durham hit a low of answering only 77 percent of calls in 15 seconds or less.

However, since then Durham 911 is inching closer to meeting NENA’s standard — from January through March the center answered 87 percent to 88 percent of 911 calls in 15 seconds or less.

Durham 911 has been able to improve their call pick-up times despite 48 percent of their call taker positions remaining vacant, as 29 out of their 60 full-time 911 operator positions are open.

A city spokesperson told CBS 17 in an email that part-time staff members have helped answer calls and Durham Fire Department workers have helped with dispatching calls.

City officials said the Durham Emergency Communications Center has planned four training academies for 2022. Each of these academies will include 12 new trainees.

In addition to training at the center, Durham Technical Community College is preparing to start its new academy for 911 operators on May 23.

“We’re going to try to get 18 people to begin the class,” said Ernest Jannetta, director of public safety at Durham Tech.

Jannetta said through the two-month academy, students will be able to go through the same scenarios as if they were taking 911 emergency calls.

“They’ll be able to receive the call and send out a dispatch, just like in real-time as if they were actually working in a communications center,” Jannetta said.

The plan is to hold the 911 operator academies back-to-back, with a one- to two-week break between them, he said.

Jannetta said that will allow them to have multiple academies and possibly train anywhere from 60 to 80 new 911 operators by the end of the year.

“We are trying to meet the needs of the community,” Jannetta said. “This allows us to get more people in to learn the skills that are needed to help our community.”

Jannetta said at least 40 people have shown interest in participating, but they will only take 18 participants in the first academy.

If you are interested in going through the 911 operator academy, contact Ernest Janetta at Jannettae@durhamtech.edu.

To apply for a 911 operator position in Durham, click on this link.