Survey Finds 911 Call Centers are Understaffed and Plagued by Burnout 

July 26, 2023

A national survey released Tuesday found that 911 emergency call center workers are suffering burnout as they say their agencies are understaffed and struggling to fill vacancies.

The survey was conducted by the National Emergency Number Association (NENA) in conjunction with Carbyne, a cloud technology company focused on emergency services. Some 850 workers from 911 call centers across the country were polled. 

It found that many workers are handling more frequent call surges amid a feeling that they’re undertrained. 

The nationwide staffing shortage mirrors shortages in police departments and other law enforcement agencies that have led to longer wait times or other troubles reaching 911 operators. 

For example, California Highway Patrol (CHP) in the Bay Area town of Vallejo is experiencing the longest wait times in the U.S., according to California Office of Emergency Services’ data. 

Currently, callers to the Vallejo 911 call center remain on hold for an average of 56.8 seconds before talking to a dispatcher. Oakland Police Department, also in the Bay Area, was close behind with an average hold time of 54 seconds.

Karima Holmes, vice president and head of public safety at Carbyne and former director of the Office of Unified Communications in DC, called the 911 study’s statistics “alarming.”

“I knew it was going to be high, but 82% of respondents said their centers were understaffed,” she said.

She noted that staffing issues at 911 call centers worsened during the Covid pandemic. Further, Holmes said that, like many jobs in public safety and law enforcement, the call centers suffered an image problem following the police killing of George Floyd in 2020.

Add to that “issues with lower pay, dealing with increased call volumes and people feeling burned out, and it becomes difficult to get people into the profession,” Holmes said.

The survey was released at a national online conference of 911 leaders to discuss possible solutions to the staffing crisis and other related issues.

NENA CEO Brian Fontes said his group has been advocating for the federal government to re-classify 911 call center staff, from clerical or office staff to protected service workers like other emergency responders. He asserts that such a change could not only boost morale, it would allow the 911 staffers to qualify for benefits programs offered to police and others.

NENA has also been advocating for a bill that would spend $15 billion equipping call centers with newer technology, called Next Generation 911, which would convert hard-wired centers across the country to digital internet protocol-based tech. Such a move could greatly improve location tracking and lessen system outages. 

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