Workers at 911 call centers across the country suffer from burnout, feel undertrained, and struggle to cover for staffing shortages, a survey by the National Emergency Number Association has found. The survey, conducted with Carbyne, a cloud technology company focused on emergency services, polled about 850 workers, the Associated Press reports. The findings show the widespread nature of staffing problems that have been laid bare in some communities in recent years. The survey was released at an online national conference of 911 leaders to discuss possible solutions to the staffing crisis and other issues faced by emergency response centers.
Nationwide staffing shortages that in many cases mirror the shortages in police departments and law enforcement agencies have led to longer wait times or trouble reaching operators at centers around the country, according to experts. “The numbers we’re seeing right now are really alarming. It was a major impetus of why we did this study. I knew it was going to be high, but 82% of respondents said their centers were understaffed,” said Karima Holmes, vice president and head of public safety at Carbyne and former director of the Office of Unified Communications in Washington, D.C. Holmes said staffing issues in many centers worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic, and like many jobs in public safety, it suffered from image problems after the 2020 police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. “People are not coming to the job because of people turning away from wanting to have public safety careers,” Holmes said. “But you add to that issues with lower pay, dealing with increased call volumes and people feeling burned out, and it becomes difficult to get people into the profession.” Brian Fontes, CEO of NENA, said the group has been advocating for national legislation to change the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ classification of 911 workers from office or clerical workers to protected service workers like other emergency responders. The change would boost morale by more accurately describing the role of 911 workers and open doors locally to include those workers in benefits programs offered to police and others, he said. “Iowa has been trying to incorporate them into their state retirement system for public safety personnel, but the legal review came back and said they couldn’t do that because of how these employees are classified,” Fontes said.