‘More needs to be done:’ Community calls for more action as nearly 40% of Durham 911 operator jobs still vacant

Durham County News

DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – On Tuesday morning, the city of Durham’s emergency communications public information page said they had 26 vacant 911 operator vacancies out of 60.

This is the same number of vacancies the city had back in May when they were having to send an average of 1,900 calls every month to Raleigh-Wake 911 because they did not have enough staff to answer the emergency calls.

But late Tuesday afternoon, the city told CBS 17 they have hired three more full-time call takers, so the current number of full-time operator positions is at 23, and they updated the website to reflect that.

A city spokesperson said they have also increased their part-time call taker staff by nearly 50 percent. The city now has 15 part-time call takers who are helping them answer emergency calls.

In addition, the city said that administrative staffers are also helping answer 911 calls, and that this has helped improve their answer times.

According to data on their website, 86 percent of 911 calls were answered within 15 seconds or less in Durham for the month of October, which is an improvement from the 77 percent of 911 calls answered within 15 seconds in August.

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

“The DECC is headed in the right direction, and as we’ve indicated many times, it will take some time to get to a point where we ourselves are satisfied,” Beverly Thompson, a spokesperson for the city of Durham said in an email late Tuesday afternoon. “Although every effort is made to hire the right people for the right job, various situations can impact whether or not a person continues on the job.”

Lisa Rich said a family member broke a mirror and cut his arm very badly last week.

She said he tried calling Durham 911 and she said it just rang and rang for what he said felt like two minutes.

“He gave up, he felt like he was about to pass out any second,” Rich said

Rich said he decided to hang up and call a neighbor to take him to the emergency room.

He was able to get stitches and thankfully he is recovering, but Rich said it is concerning that no one picked up.

The city told CBS 17 they investigated and found that Rich’s family member’s call had been canceled after 47 seconds.

The city said some calls do wait longer for an available call taker and they encourage all callers to remain on the line and their call will be answered.

However, Rich said more needs to be done to address the 911 operator shortage.

“I can appreciate what they’re doing, but at the same time, clearly, more needs to be done and faster,” Rich said. “Depending on the injury, someone is going to die first before it’s addressed if they don’t take action sooner.”

CBS 17 has reported on the shortage of 911 operators in Durham for months and in September the city told CBS 17 their vacancies had dropped down to 21.

However, in October the vacancies climbed back up to 23 and as of November 10, the city had 26 vacancies.

The city told CBS 17 in late October that they had an academy of 12 potential workers that would start this month.

The city spokesperson also said the city is also taking extra measures to retain and recruit more 911 operators.

According to the website, Durham 911 is offering hiring bonuses for external candidates and existing staff who want to advance their career.

Also, city officials said the number of training academies has increased this year and four academies are planned in 2022 and they have also increased the number of trainees in each academy.

But after her family member struggled to contact 911 last week, Rich said she still thinks the city of Durham needs to do more to address the problem.

“Durham needs to get the problem fixed, it’s been dragging on for months and this is not the kind of problem that should drag on for months,” Rich said.

If you would like to apply for a job as 911 call taker in Durham, click to visit this Durham website.

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