IE 11 Not Supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

Staffing 911 Centers

The challenges are still here today.

Staffing challenges are everywhere, from the service industry to airline pilots. It is going to take some time for things to balance out — if they ever do.

Our older workforce with baby boomers retiring more and more every day is leading to a worker shortage, one that even an economic recession will not likely change the basic dynamics of.

This is a quote from an email I got from a former 911 operator/dispatcher and shift supervisor. The environment described dates back to around 1991, but the challenges persist today.

“Running a Comm Center is a challenge even during the best of times. At _______ in the old days, there was a 20% turnover rate even during good times. About 50% of applicants who made it to the polygraph failed and there were always a few who dropped out during training and failed to pass probation. It took months to hire, then a few weeks of classroom and double plug training before they were ready to answer non-emergency calls, then back to the classroom and double plugging on primary lines. Probation was one year. Once a person became proficient on the phones and finished probation, they were considered for dispatch training which was more classroom and lots of double plugging. Not everyone wants to dispatch and some who want to don’t pass the training which means they remain call takers. ______ runs a 5/2, 5/3 schedule and I suspect individuals pick shifts based on seniority and skill sets (dispatch qualified or only call taker). Also, though never stated, my experience is that anyone who is hired who are older, like just starting the career in the mid-40’s or older, seldom are able to develop the skill sets to become dispatchers unless they are former cops or have worked with a similar type job; multiple screens and telecommunications equipment. Those who started in their 20’s often burn out or move to other professions since the holiday and shift work get old fast especially when you have a family. In general, colds and flu often spread through our comm center. Sharing work surfaces, chairs, phones keyboards, no ability to open windows for circulation, mandatory overtime, and irregular sleep patterns and schedules, all add to the inability to fight off ‘bugs’. I’m not surprised by the COVID numbers or the repetition of illness. Plus, the job stress of having to make the correct decisions multiple times a day, 100% of the time. It is a high stress job but also rewarding though there is seldom recognition for many positive outcomes that go unnoticed.”

The above is a pretty realistic view of getting through the hiring process and then the retention rate due to a number of different factors.

Shift work in particular is a challenging hill to climb. Add a spouse, their schedule and children, and balancing all the balls can be difficult. It is the same for other first responder professions that have people on duty 24/7, not to mention the hospital/nursing community.

Bottom line, know what you are getting into up front.
Eric Holdeman is a nationally known emergency manager. He has worked in emergency management at the federal, state and local government levels. Today he serves as the Director, Center for Regional Disaster Resilience (CRDR), which is part of the Pacific Northwest Economic Region (PNWER). The focus for his work there is engaging the public and private sectors to work collaboratively on issues of common interest, regionally and cross jurisdictionally.