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Councilwoman Calls 911, Waits for Minutes for Response

The Durham Emergency Communications center answered just 78% of the calls it received in July within 15 seconds. Nearly 9% of calls took 41 to 60 seconds to answer.

(TNS) - DURHAM — Count a City Council member among those who've now waited, and waited, for someone to pick up at Durham's 911 center.

"Last week, when I had to call 911 because a gentleman was shot on Main Street, I had to wait four minutes to get a response," Councilwoman DeDreana Freeman told her colleagues Thursday afternoon.

The Durham Emergency Communications center answered just 78% of the calls it received in July within 15 seconds. Nearly 9% of calls took 41 to 60 seconds to answer.

The National Emergency Number Association says 90% of calls should be answered within 15 seconds, and 95% of calls within 20 seconds.

Randy Beeman, 911 center director, told the council his department working to improve response times by adding staff through hiring and overtime incentives, as well as condensing training for recruits.

It is also considering a call-rerouting system with other cities, similar to Durham's previous partnership with the Raleigh- Wake call center that ended in June.

The Durham center currently has 28 vacancies out of 60 full-time call-taking positions, Beeman said. It also has 11 part-timers who work at least 20 hours per month.

That's an increase in vacancies from the 25 the city reported in May, when a city spokesperson told The News & Observer the center had eight people in training.

"Staffing is not where we need it, and call volumes are high," Beeman said. "We are experiencing unplanned and elevated absenteeism coupled with challenges of attrition."

Overall, the percentage of calls the 911 center answered within 15 seconds fell from 86% in January to 78% in July, The N&O previously reported.

And in July, the center received 27,913 calls, 32% or nearly 7,000 more calls than it received in January,

Freeman's experience mirrors other callers', including some residents at McDougald Terrace who reported problems reaching 911 last month after four people were shot there, one fatally, and a man who said he called four times to report strangers trying to break into his car.

"I recognize and take responsibility that we are not meeting acceptable standards of call answer times," Beeman said. "We are not meeting the expectations of our residents and visitors when callers are not able to receive assistance in an appropriate time."

'An emergency situation'

Council Member Mark-Anthony Middleton said the center should have made more progress by now.

"It seems to me that that this feels somewhat spectator-ish to me, like we are watching what happens and hoping for a good outcome," he said at Thursday's council meeting.

"I fully affirm that the steps of adding capacity and training to increase personnel is absolutely critical," he said. "But if you bundle all of that together, we were or already should've been doing that when we were routing calls to Raleigh — we were already in an emergency situation and still are."

The 911 center had no alternate plan in place when the Raleigh- Wake call re-routing plan stopped. Since then, Durham has received support from firefighters, the sheriff's office and Duke University during peak call times.

According to Beeman, the department's 12-week training program has been reduced to a week-long program and is being modified to prepare more staff to fill vacancies. The next two training academies should add 20 new employees by the end of December.

"There is no stone unturned in this conversation, including alternate routing," said Bo Ferguson, deputy city manager. "I'd like to acknowledge that Mr. Beeman has had significant conversations with potential partners along those lines once again."

The city is still compiling August 911 response times, and Mayor Pro Tem Jillian Johnson asked staff to continue posting the information online through the end of the year.


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