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Emergency Call Centers Face a Troubling Workforce Problem

By Alex Passett April 03, 2023

Back in 2008, the U.S. Congress officially recognized the month of April as National 911 Month in order to support the National 9-1-1 Education Coalition. Since then, April has been 911 Education and Awareness Month, and public safety educators are greatly encouraged to share resources and materials to improve public education about the optimal uses of 911 services nationwide.

“You don’t wake up in the morning thinking you’ll have to call 911 in the afternoon,” said Brian Fontes, CEO of the National Emergency Number Association (NENA). “This is what makes April so very important for us in terms of awareness; in a matter of seconds as an emergency unfolds, being informed and prepared makes all the difference.”

Additionally, starting April 9 and running through the 15, a sub-event (in a sense) is taking place: National Public Safety Telecommunicator Week.

This is clearly all important information to keep in mind, but I’m taking the opportunity to specifically share this today because results from a recent survey have come in (and they aren’t as bright as one would hope).

The International Academies of Emergency Dispatch (IAED) as well as the National Association of State 911 Administrators (NASNA) co-sponsored a survey of 774 total 911 centers to better understand the workforce challenges – and opportunities, ideally – that agencies currently face.

And per the survey, nearly half of these emergency call centers are unfortunately facing serious workforce shortfalls.

Below are the long-story-short takeaways from IAED and NASNA’s findings:

  • 36% of centers reported having fewer positions filled in 2022 than in 2019.
  • The top 25 centers reporting the highest staffing losses aren’t clustered in cities or specific to any one region; vacancies in staffing have appeared nationwide.
  • Many centers (too many, some might think) reported, quote, “stunning vacancy rates” in 2022, as well. Of the 774 centers:
    • 192 reported a 1%-20% vacancy rate.
    • 339 reported a 21%-40% vacancy rate.
    • 117 reported a 41%-60% vacancy rate.
    • The remaining 44 reported a whopping 61%-100% vacancy rate.

The above numbers represent 692 of the 774 respondents. From that group, the employee loss reached 3,962 staff departures due to job stress, dissatisfactory work hours, the need for improved pay, etc.

"An alarming number of centers are experiencing their own workforce emergencies," said Harriet Rennie-Brown, Executive Director of NASNA. "We need better recruitment, retention, and support to ensure the quality of the 911 emergency services we all rely on."

And per Ty Wooten, Director of Government Affairs at IAED, "When there are more incoming demands on the 911 center than there are trained, qualified personnel to respond, public safety is put at risk. This must change.”

Edited by Greg Tavarez
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