AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin City Council members plan to discuss 911 staffing issues during a work session next week. In the meantime, KXAN looked at 911 operations in other areas.
San Antonio police added about 100 new call-takers between 2017 and 2018 following a study commissioned by the city that confirmed more staff members were needed.
That move helped improve call-answer times from eight seconds to one second. Today, police told us those 100 positions still exist, though there has been turnover. Operators are still answering 95% of emergency calls within 15 seconds.
By comparison, Austin’s 15-second answer rate was about 80% in August and September.
It’s important to note emergency communications departments operate differently from municipality to municipality.
“We are incredibly proud and grateful to our team for the service they provide the citizens and visitors of San Antonio,” SAPD’s public information office said in an email statement.
San Antonio currently has a 12% vacancy rate for call takers, compared to Austin’s roughly 50%. To maintain staff, SAPD said the City enacted two raises this year — a 5% raise in March and a 7% raise in October. The department also has a “persistent presence at local job fairs” and “directed efforts” to improve morale.
Burnet County also faces a staffing challenge with its emergency communications operations.
“It’s one of the biggest things we’re having to deal with,” said Capt. Mike Sorenson, but he added, “nobody is waiting on hold with 911, we have enough staff to where those get answered.”
Burnet County, of course, isn’t as populated as Austin.
Sorenson said patrol officers, corrections staff and office employees will fill to help with non-emergency calls to make sure all calls get answered. He recognized it’s difficult across the board with frequent turnover and the sheriff’s office works to keep morale high.
“We’re one big happy family for the most part, and we want to take care of each other out here,” he said.
Under state law, emergency telecommunicators need to be TCOLE-certified. That means only officers can fill in. EMTs and firefighters cannot.