By Mary Velan
Public agencies are investing in new technologies and policies to ensure 911 center operations are efficiently maintained and providing high-quality services to residents.
In Baltimore County, Maryland, local police officers and paramedics have been called upon to fill vacancies in the county’s 911 center. Because the center is severely understaffed, seven police and fire department employees with experience in 911 dispatch services were asked to fill open spots for up to 12 months, the Baltimore Sun reported.
Currently, the Baltimore County 911 center has 20 vacancies for call-takers and dispatchers. The center has reported higher-than-average sick leave leading to significant turnover over the past few years. This forces remaining employees to work mandatory overtime. To help reduce these costs and employee strain, police and fire departments were asked to pitch in a few employees in the short term while new 911 center workers are being trained, the Baltimore Sun reported.
While the extra help will be useful in the immediate future, the 911 center is developing more long-term strategies to resolve overall staffing problems. For example, the center is considering making 911 center employees work 12-hour shifts that include both day and night schedules. While the 12-hour shifts seemed agreeable to employees, switching between days and nights could cause problems associated with childcare, the Baltimore Sun reported.
The Hamilton County 911 center in Tennessee has invested in a new call recording system that reduces the manpower needed to complete call reviews while improving efficiency of self-evaluations.
Employees of 911 centers have a list of requirements they must meet on each call such as collecting caller information, asking appropriate questions and preventing the line from going silent for more than 15 seconds. In Hamilton County, telecommunicators answer about 330 emergency 911 calls daily to total roughly 120,000 annually. These calls must be reviewed by management to ensure they are responded to effectively. Last year, however, the county was only able to review 5 percent of all inbound calls, Times Free Press reported.
The new call recording system allows managers to sort and pull calls by type – such as EMS, fire or police – as well as by operator and date. Once the review is completed, the evaluation is sent to the phone operator for direct feedback. Furthermore, reviewers can see a video recording of the phone operator’s computer screen throughout the call to view how they navigate the system in real time, Times Free Press reported.
Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, is researching different strategies to streamline its 911 center operations while reducing costs. If the city transfers its 911 operations to Northampton or Lehigh counties, Bethlehem would still have to maintain a small dispatch center to manage local fire and emergency medical service calls, and non-emergency calls. To run this smaller center, Bethlehem would spend $2.7 million, compared to the $2.1 million it currently allocates toward the existing 911 center, The Morning Call reported.
If Bethlehem opts to keep its current 911 center, the city will experiment on new ways to trim costs. Bethlehem is considering sharing a 911 phone switch hookup with Northampton County and Allentown, as well as share radio systems with Allentown. Bethlehem is looking to share as much physical infrastructure with nearby communities to shave unnecessary overhead costs, The Morning Call reported.