DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – Officials with Durham Technical Community College say they are moving quickly as they prepare to launch their 911 operator academy later this spring.

Friday afternoon, Durham Tech President J.B. Buxton said they have hired a program coordinator and they are working on developing the curriculum.

The academy is part of a partnership between Durham Tech and the city of Durham to help increase staffing at the Durham Emergency Communications Center, where now 30 out of 60 call-taker positions are vacant.

Buxton said on Friday they still do not have a date yet for when the program will launch, but he said the plan is to start by mid-spring so that they can get people through the program and to the Durham 911 call center by early summer.

“These programs usually run about 12 weeks and we’re working to run it in eight weeks, to make it a little bit more accessible for folks who want to move in this career,” Buxton said.

Buxton said they already have 30 people on the waiting list to attend the academy, but the plan is to train 15 people at a time.

“We are putting together the hardware and software we need so we can create a simulation environment, so an individual going through this training will face the same kind of environment they would as a 911 dispatch operator,” Buxton said.

Buxton said once students go through the eight-week program, it will prepare them to apply for positions with the Durham 911 call center.

“This sets them up to get them prepared to go in the city of Durham’s academy and move right into a dispatch job,” Buxton said.

Buxton said the course will cost about $250 and they have financial help available for students who need it.

This comes as the number of 911 vacancies at the Durham call center has climbed from 28 in December to 30 as of Feb. 5.

CBS 17 spoke with a 911 call taker this week who did not want to be identified.

She said that the shortage means there are still only three to five operators taking calls at a time and that sometimes 911 callers are having to wait longer for someone to pick up.

“I mean it’s not uncommon for calls to ring For 20, 30, 40 seconds, or even a minute or more,” the employee said.

The call talker told CBS 17 that people are leaving Durham 911 because they are burned out from having to work 12- to 13-hour days without a break.

“The morale is very low, people feel very unappreciated,” she said. “My concern with everyone being overworked is are they able to do their job to the best of their ability? I would hate to see something horrible have to happen to shine a light on a desperate need to fix things.”

Despite the vacancies, city officials Friday told CBS 17 that their part-time employees have helped more 911 calls get answered quicker.

According to the website, 87 percent of 911 calls in Durham were answered within 10 seconds or less. City officials said that this the best performance by the call center since April 2020.

Buxton said he hopes that Durham Tech can help boost the staffing levels at the call center by early summer.

“I’m excited that Durham Tech can be part of the workforce solution and I would just hope that people in our community would see this as a great opportunity to get into a good job. It’s also an important job in our community for keeping our community safe,” Buxton said.

For more information on how to attend Durham Tech’s 911 operator academy, you can reach out to Juston Long, at longj@durhamtech.edu.