Durham community concerned about safety as 911 operator shortage continues

North Carolina

DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – Delbert Jarmon called 911 on Sunday afternoon around 3:30 p.m. after he saw a man shooting at a vehicle driving through the intersection of Liberty Street and Alston Avenue in east Durham.

“You know the gunfire sounded kind of like firecrackers, you know? Like pop, pop, pop, pop, pop,” Jarmon said. “It happened so fast, and I froze for a minute. Then I said, ‘Oh my God I’ve got to call 911.'”

Jarmon dialed 911, but he said it took a while for someone to answer.

“The phone rang for approximately five minutes before someone answered that actual call,” Jarmon said.

It was a 911 operator from Raleigh who ended up answering the call because no one in Durham was able to take the call.

As CBS 17 has previously reported, some of Durham’s 911 calls have been forwarded to Raleigh because the Durham Emergency Communications Center is experiencing a shortage in its staff.

The latest data from the city of Durham shows they have 64 operational positions in the Emergency Communications Center, but only 38 of those positions are filled and only 31 of those individuals are trained to answer calls.

As a result, at least 9 percent of Durham’s 911 calls are forwarded to the Raleigh Wake Emergency Communications Center. The Raleigh 911 call taker will gather the information and send it back to a Durham dispatcher.

Jarmon said he could tell that the 911 operator was not familiar with the intersection in Durham where the shooting incident occurred.

“The time frame it took for that call to go to Raleigh, for it to ring, and then they still have to relay that information back to Durham, that is an incredible safety hazard,” Jarmon said.

CBS 17 called Durham’s 911 call center to verify Jarmon’s claim that it took five minutes for someone to answer the phone.

City officials emailed CBS 17 and said they did “not have the audio recording of the call” because Raleigh answered took the call.

Officials said the call would have to be requested from Raleigh.

Raleigh Wake 911 was able to send CBS 17 the 911 call. It said the call was answered within 10 seconds.

So at what point are 911 calls forwarded to the Raleigh Wake 911 Emergency Communications Center if they are not answered in Durham?

Bo Ferguson, Durham’s Deputy City Manager, said in an email on Wednesday afternoon that calls roll over to Raleigh if they are not answered within 30 seconds.

Ferguson said their call center was fully staffed on Sunday afternoon and that some calls were forwarded to Raleigh because of the high volume of calls they received on the shooting incident.
Ferguson said they had already received a call about this incident before Jarmon’s call came in and police were dispatched to the scene within two minutes of the first call.

After checking with both Durham and Raleigh, there is no record of the exact time when Jarmon dialed 911 and the phone started ringing, which makes it hard to know for sure how long he waited for the call to be answered.

Either way, Jarmon said this is concerning and something needs to be done to address Durham’s shortage of 911 operators.

“I don’t know how you can feel safe, if some of our 911 calls are being routed to Raleigh first and then have to come to Durham, it can’t be safe for anybody.”

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