DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) — A first responder raised concerns about staffing at the Durham 911 call center and CBS 17 continues to investigate.
The city, which runs the center, said the staffing shortage is due to a COVID-19 outbreak. But CBS 17 is learning there’s more to it than that.
Going into this week, director of the Durham Emergency Communications Center, Randy Beeman said they had 30 open positions or were at about 50% of its staff.
“That’s unacceptable,” Jimie Wright, the President of the Firefighters Association said.
Wright said staffing shortages at the 911 call center are leading to delays in their response.
“There’s a call processing that has to go on whether it’s a fire or EMS call and a lot of questions are asked that dictate the response type and due to the short staffing, they’re not running through that entire process,” Wright said.
CBS 17 first started looking into this last month when the city began receiving help from Raleigh’s 911 call center.
After several calls and emails, CBS 17 finally got data on response times.
We compared Dec. 2, just before the COVID-19 outbreak started and Jan. 2, when Raleigh started assisting. For high priority police calls, meaning a crime just happened or is in progress, the city said on average, officers responded in 9 minutes 41 seconds.
On Jan. 2, that time went down to 7 minutes 21 seconds.
For fire calls, there was a difference of three seconds. EMS response increased by about 30 seconds.
The city said Raleigh’s 911 call center continues to answer about 11% of their calls.
But staffing appeared to be the bigger issue. The center said it has 63 total positions, only 33 are filled. Two employees started Monday. Another four started Tuesday.
That still leaves 24 positions open.
“It is difficult to recruit and maintain the call takers,” said Bo Ferguson, Durham’s Deputy City Manager.
In a statement, Beeman wrote:
“as you are aware, the Durham Emergency Communications Center (DECC) has been responding to a staffing shortage directly related to the COVID-19 pandemic since mid-December 2020. In addition, like 911 agencies across the country, DECC has been coping with long-term staffing challenges consistent with industry trends.
Throughout this period, the DECC has worked closely with our public safety partners to ensure that adequate call answering and dispatch services are provided to the Durham public and the public safety community.
As previously reported, Durham has sought assistance from the Raleigh Emergency Communications Center to handle surges in calls when they cannot be handled by DECC staff. During the current staff shortage, approximately 11% of calls (which amounts to 2,113) to the DECC have been answered by call takers in Raleigh and dispatched by DECC staff.
DECC leadership regularly receive feedback from public safety partners like the Durham Fire Department on specific calls and circumstances where those agencies believe calls could have been handled more effectively. Specific concerns like those mentioned in the letter from the Durham Firefighters Union are always investigated by DECC and necessary steps taken to improve their services going forward.
DECC expects to return to normal staffing levels in the near future, and is also augmenting existing staff with new part-time personnel. Additional measures will continue to be considered to augment the ability of the DECC to continue normal operations.