News : Staff Shortage Causes Longer 911 Wait Time in Memphis
Memphis, TN, USA, Feb 15, 2016 -- Metrica Spears starts fielding calls as soon as she takes her seat at the Memphis Police Department’s 911 call center.
Shootings. Assaults, Car accidents. For 14 years, she has fielded frantic phone calls from Shelby County residents in need of assistance.
"I try not to make it personal," Spears said. "You have to take every call and even though we’re here to help people, we just can’t put ourselves in the element, because if we do that we’ll take that home and it manifests into our everyday lives."
Spears is one of 119 operators who work in the center. MPD 911 communications manager Marvin Pender says many more are needed, The Commercial Appeal reported.
The average hold time when someone dials 911 in Shelby County is 110 seconds, much higher than the national average of 20 seconds, Pender said. That’s because there aren’t enough people on staff to man the phone lines, he said.
"Our main goal is to make sure we have a body in each seat … that’s going to cut down on your hold time when you call 911," Pender said.
Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland recently announced plans to hire 30 part-time 911 dispatchers. Pender said MPD has already hired 15 full-timers who will start on Feb. 22. As of Friday morning, the call center received 1,084 applications for the 30 spots.
One incentive to apply may be the pay - both full- and part-time dispatchers start at $19 an hour, Pender said.
Pender said a 911 operator needs to be energetic and able to handle a great deal of stress. Dispatchers are required to live in Shelby County and dependability is crucial - the center needs those "bodies in the seats" in rain, sleet or snow, he said.
"The goal is to get everybody the help that they want and to make sure officers get home safely daily," Spears said.
The application period for the part-time positions closed Friday afternoon, and the interview process begins Monday. Every applicant is required to take a typing test. This first step weeds out a lot of applicants, Pender said.
The second step is a call simulation where the aspiring dispatchers listen to recorded situations and type what they hear. If they pass that test, they go through background checks and interviews, Pender said.
Once hired, the new employees go through a rigorous six-week training period to prepare them to answer the roughly 100 calls an average dispatcher receives during a normal shift.
The center receives 3,500 to 4,000 calls a day. In 2015, the center handled two million calls and dispatched police to one million of them, Pender said.
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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Published: Wednesday, February 17, 2016