AUSTIN (KXAN) — Music fans are about to descend upon Zilker Park for the Austin City Limits Music Festival, and the head of the Austin Police Department’s emergency communications department said people calling 911 will likely have to wait on hold.
“Our goal is to provide immediate access to emergency services to our community members and visitors,” APD’s Lt. Ken Murphy said. “And when we cannot perform that because of our staff levels, our high vacancy rate, it is very frustrating.”
According to APD’s quarterly report discussed during Monday’s Public Safety Commission meeting, the emergency communications department only has 50 call-takers on staff. Fully staffed, the department has 105 positions.
“We do not have the numbers to upstaff like we normally would in years past,” Murphy said.
While dispatch numbers are also low, APD still has enough to staff dispatchers to cover the special event channels the department activates during events like ACL and the South by Southwest Conference & Festivals.
Dispatchers communicate with officers in the field, versus 911 call-takers and operators, who answer the phone when you call 911.
During special events, there are officers specifically dedicated to the area of and around an event. Those groups have their own dedicated dispatch channel, so additional dispatchers are needed to be able to communicate with those officers specifically.
Murphy said the department continues to ramp up recruiting efforts to obtain additional quality staff.
If you need to report something like a lost phone or a car break-in, call 311 instead of 911.
How an app can help with response times
Both APD and Austin-Travis County EMS are encouraging ACL-goers to download the free smartphone app what3words.
“When you call 911, one of the first things they ask is ‘what’s the address of your emergency,'” said Giles Rhys Jones, the company’s chief marketing officer.
The app divides the entire world into 10×10-foot squares and assigns each plot an “address” that consists of three words separated by periods.
“The app will facilitate getting first responders to the person much more quickly,” Murphy said. Emergency communications, APD and ATCEMS staff are trained on how to use the app.
The app can also help you locate your friends at the festival.
“There’s potentially tens of thousands of people, if you’re trying to find your friends at a location, it can be very difficult to describe it,” Rhys Jones added.