‘It can be really stressful’: Localities hiring 911 dispatchers amid shortage

Local 911 centers need more people who are ready to answer the phones when someone has an emergency.
Published: Feb. 24, 2023 at 8:18 PM EST
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Richmond 911 welcomed 13 new graduates Friday to the second busiest dispatch center in the commonwealth, behind Fairfax County.

This is the largest graduation class in the last seven years.

“They’ve already started their on the job training and have been answering calls.”

Despite the newest additions, Richmond 911 still needs more people who are ready to answer those phones when someone has an emergency.

Richmond Department of Emergency Communications Preparedness and Response Director Stephen Willoughby says they’re about 30 operators short.

Willoughby says salaries for emergency communications officers were increased by 15% as well as receiving two additional mental health days.

“It’s a nationwide challenge. Public safety, 911 centers, the Taco Bell down the street is having problems with staffing, Willoughby said.

The same holds true for other localities.

At Henrico County Department of Emergency Communications, the phone rings off the hook.

Director of Henrico County Department of Emergency Communications Kevin Pond says this is the most vacancies they’ve had with 911 operators in recent years, although they’ve seen no impact on their services.

Pond says dispatchers are averaging more than 12,000 emergency calls a month right now.

He says the call volume is only continuing to climb, while also needing 23 more dispatchers, which is about a quarter of their staff.

Pond says they’ve had to recruit Henrico Fire and Police to help.

“The job itself is difficult. We are an equal public safety partner, so it’s 24/7, long hours, we work night shifts just like everyone else, and the stress of the job can really be cumulative. With an increase call volume and the calls these individuals have to take and hear every day, it can be really stressful,” Pond said.

According to Chesterfield County Emergency Communications, dispatch officers are given mandatory overtime to help cover their 20 vacancies if a worker doesn’t volunteer to cover.

Richmond residents can file a complaint if they have an issues when calling the emergency or non-emergency number.

The department also released the following information regarding emergency calls:

  • For non-emergencies, please call the public safety non-emergency number, 804-646-5100.
  • Every call is answered in the order that it is received.
  • You might get a recording. If so, please stay on the line until your call is answered in the order it was received. Please do not hang up in an attempt to call back, which will only delay the response and add additional work for the call-takers.
  • As always, we encourage callers to contact us to file a complaint and provide us with more information so that we can more fully investigate. To file a complaint, please call 804-646-5911.
  • More information about filing complaints can be found here.
  • More details on dos and don’ts for calling and texting 911 can be found here.