AUSTIN (KXAN) — Long waits continue for 911 callers as cries for help are now becoming more urgent.

KXAN has received multiple emails from people who have called 911 but had to wait for a response. Some callers told KXAN they had to wait five minutes or longer for an answer.

Josh Mitford saw a bad accident on Interstate 35 and dialed 911 for help, but he too had to wait.

“It took almost five-and-a-half minutes to get an operator on the phone from the time I dialed,” said Mitford. “You don’t expect that when you call 911. You expect someone to immediately pick up.”

“Every day, it is happening every day,” said a 911 call taker who wished to remain anonymous.

The Austin Police Department is still seeing a major staffing shortage with 911 call-takers and dispatchers. The department is down 23 dispatchers out of 75 allotted staff and down 49 operators out of an allotted 105 positions.

“If we continue to lose call-takers, the call center is going to collapse and we won’t be able to provide any emergency services,” said a 911 call-taker. “A lot of people have gotten to the point where they are too burned out and they left.”

Starting pay was about $18 and increased recently, but the 911 operator told us there are other nearby counties that offer more.

“To try to attract more people, our pay has to be competitive,” said the 911 operator. “Twenty-two and $24 an hour is not competitive in this region anymore.”

KXAN reached out to Williamson County to see what staffing and pay looked like. It told us it has 60 telecommunicator positions with eight vacancies.

After a recent cost of living increase, the starting hourly rate for a telecommunicator, who handles receiving calls and dispatching, is $27.54 an hour.

“A core government service is responding to your emergency calls, and we are not doing that at the level we need to in our city,” said Austin City councilmember Alison Alter.

Alter said she has been highlighting the issue for more than a year and something should have been done sooner.

“We are hoping some of the adjustments we made, we just made some in the last budget will help, but I think management needs to lean in and that is not just APD, it is also HR and the city manager,” said Alter.

In August, APD lowered the minimum number of 911 call-takers required per shift to help alleviate the stress of staff shortages.

As a short-term solution to ongoing staff shortages at the APD 911 call center, the department is allowing sworn employees to work overtime to answer calls. The operator we spoke to said it has helped some, but they need even more help to handle the call volume, especially during busy times.