Durham 911 operator says long-time employees are overworked as staff shortage continues

Durham County News

DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) — When you call 911, you expect someone to pick up and get help to you quickly.

As CBS 17 previously reported, that isn’t always the case in Durham.

CBS 17 started investigating in December when a COVID-19 outbreak led to staffing shortages. Raleigh’s center started taking some of Durham’s calls.

That stopped on June 1, but people have reported calling 911 and no one answering.

“We tried probably 5 or 6 times,” Garrett Smith said.

Smith said he thought his phone was broken when he called 911 in Durham and no one picked up.

“We went through police non-emergency numbers, we called the sheriff’s department. We tried police substations,” Smith explained.

What prompted Smith’s calls?

Smith said he saw two guys in his driveway trying to open the doors to his wife’s minivan. As they started to walk away, he said he saw what appeared to be a gun.

“I know it’s still been happening,” Smith said.

The City said staffing levels have improved, but one longtime employee disagrees.

They asked CBS 17 not to give their name or show their face. They are concerned about retaliation.

“The more they try to cover with on-call or with overtime, the more overworked their long-term employees get who then leave and go other places,” they said.

CBS 17 asked if the trainees have made a difference.

“So some trainees have been released to the floor. It is making a little bit of difference. The current group of trainees that started with four only has one person left,” they explained.

The City disputes that. They argue call volume was up in June and July.

In response to CBS 17’s requests and pressure from the public, Durham started making more data about the center available on its website.

In January, it shows 84 percent of calls were answered in 10 seconds or less. In July it decreased to 75 percent.

“When we do have a surge of calls related to an incident, you’re seeing calls that are holding two, three, four minutes before you can get to them,” they said.

That employee said when staffing levels drop below the minimum levels, they have to alert the assistant city manager. They said that provides a layer of accountability.

If you need to call 911, they said to stay on the line. If you hang up and call back, you go to the end of the line.

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