DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – Every day, anywhere from 800 to 1,000 calls come into Durham’s 911 call center.
On some shifts, there are only two people answering 911 calls. The calls they don’t get to roll over to Raleigh Wake 911.
This comes as 26 of the 64 positions at the Durham 911 call center are vacant.
Since December, Raleigh-Wake 911 has been answering an average of 1,900 calls a month that roll over from Durham.
Durham’s Deputy City Manager Bo Ferguson told CBS 17 on Friday that minimum staffing at the call center is four or five people per shift, and that since two people serve as dispatchers this may only leave two to three people to answer calls at a time.
CBS 17 asked Ferguson if having only two 911 operators per shift to answer calls was acceptable in a city of more than 270,000 people like Durham.
“It’s all based on the call volumes and when they come in,” Ferguson said. “In the early morning hours when there are only a few calls coming in, that may be appropriate.”
Ferguson said that these are minimum staffing levels and that most of the time there are more than two 911 operators taking calls.
However, he said that filling the 26 vacant positions at the Durham 911 call center is a top priority.
“We understand that having less than full staffing puts a strain on everybody and we just want to reiterate that it’s our goal and it’s our objective to fill these vacancies,” Ferguson said.
Some in the community have questioned how serious the city is about hiring more 911 operators since currently there are no positions posted on the city’s website.
“We post positions when we have a training academy,” Ferguson said. “Next week we have four positions that are going to post to our website.”
Ferguson said they will be posting four certified training operator positions.
He said the last time they had posted a position for a 911 operator was back in March, and he said they have four people in their current academy.
As CBS 17 previously reported, Durham has one of the highest vacancy rates when it comes to 911 operators, as 41 percent of their 911 operator positions are vacant.
At 911 call centers in Nash, Wake, Chatham, Cumberland, Person and Johnston Counties, staffing levels are all above 90 percent.
CBS 17 asked Ferguson why it is hard for the city to hire 911 operators, and if it’s because no one is applying or if it’s because the applicants are not qualified.
“We usually get well over 100 applications,” Ferguson said. “It’s a constant balance between qualifications, getting through the screening process, and getting through the really rigorous training process.”
Ferguson said he does not know when Durham’s 911 call center will be fully staffed again, but he said they are doing what they can to get there.
“We have an intensive effort to fill those vacancies, but it’s a process where we can’t cut corners. These positions are too important, the training is too important, so I don’t want to give some date and time where I think we’ll arrive there,” Ferguson said.
Once a 911 operator is hired, they still must go through training, and it could be six or seven months before they begin taking calls.
Until Durham’s 911 call center is fully staffed again, calls they do not get to will continue to roll over to Raleigh Wake’s 911 call center.