Despite new hires, Durham call center response times hold steady
Posted August 2, 2021 11:30 a.m. EDT
Updated August 3, 2021 8:58 a.m. EDT
Durham, N.C. — For months the staffing shortage at Durham's 911 Center has led to delays in responding to emergency calls, as well as call handlers who told WRAL News that they are overworked and exhausted.
For a while, some emergency calls even had to be routed through the Wake-Raleigh 911 Center because Durham's lacked the staff to handle the call volume.
The call center has hired and begun training four new employees in the past month, a move leaders say will relieve some of the pressure.
But according to the Professional Firefighters of Durham, the situation has not improved.
In fact, they say they are seeing some alarming things – like residents coming to the fire stations in-person because no one is answering their calls.
A spokesperson for the Professional Firefighters of Durham says problems persist, writing, "On several occasions residents with ongoing emergencies have ... shown up to fire stations because no one is answering – on occasion hearing a busy signal when they called 911."
A Durham spokesperson said, however, the 911 line and nonemergency line could never ring busy, as they are not set up that way.
WRAL News asked officials if the response times answering 911 calls has improved in the past couple months.
A spokesperson said it's consistent, with about 87% of calls being answered in 20 seconds or less – and that should improve once those new trainees can hit the floor.
Elizabeth Poole, who is helping with their training, says the hiring process is very selective – and then training is intensive and takes several months.
"It’s important because of the nature of what we do. We have people’s lives in our hands," she said.
In June, WRAL News was told 25 out of 83 positions were vacant.
Despite the new hires, that number today remains at 25.
Poole says they are limited to training only four people at a time, since that's the number of training consoles they have available – and not everyone who goes into the training process actually passes. Since training takes months, it could be a while before – training only four at a time – they are able to fill a full 25 positions.
In the meantime, Beverly Thompson, director of the City of Durham's communications department, advises, "While we work to improve, we’re asking the public to remain on the line when they call, and their call will be answered."