People who call 911 say the phone rings for up to 30 minutes before a call taker or dispatcher answers.
AUSTIN, Texas – When her husband suffered a heart attack, Tonya Gotcher waited 15 minutes to answer a 911 call.
“I was screaming because I just wanted someone to help me,” Gotcher recalled. “They thought it was domestic violence.”
Five months since her husband Casey died of a heart attack at their northwest Austin home, Gotcher has left behind photos and memories. She hopes her story will be enough to inspire change at Austin’s 911 call center.
“The dispatcher, the paramedic and the sheriffs were great,” Gotcher said. “They were just a little later than we could have foreseen, I think.”
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According to the city, executives are making changes to hire more employees. The Austin Police Department and the Austin-Travis County EMS released the following statement:
“Retaining and recruiting additional 911 pickups and police dispatchers to our emergency communications center is a top priority. Here are the steps we took to address this challenge:
- We increased the salary. Since January 2022, the entry fee for 911 call takers has increased by 26% (to $22.85) and by 35% for police dispatchers (to $24.42). For most of our existing employees, the average salary increased by 13.6%.
- To retain existing employees, we have reduced mandatory overtime and are now offering a $1,800 annual stipend for employees with a TCOLE telecom certification. All employees working as 911 call takers or police dispatchers must have current TCOLE certification.
- Emergency communications training personnel are actively training APD sergeants to work as 911 callers to handle call traffic.
- Emergency Communications is continuously recruiting 911 call takers and police dispatchers.
The Austin Fire Department declined to comment.
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“What we’re seeing is that people who can’t reach 911 call 311 and are then routed to the 911 dispatcher, but when they go through 311, we get a lot less information,” said Selena Xie, President from said the ATCEMS union.
Xie praised the city leadership’s efforts so far, but more attitude changes are taking place.
“Our department is making some hiring adjustments, hiring people who have more communication experience and maybe less EMS experience,” Xie said. “Ultimately, our wages are lagging behind.”
Austin City Council member Mackenzie Kelly called for a spotlight on the call center’s problems. She sent the following statement:
Keeping the community safe is my top priority, and while it’s been challenging, I’m focused on finding solutions to critical issues. I requested a briefing to discuss compression, pay, vacancies and response rates at the emergency communications center. Our dispatchers and call takers deserve to work in an environment that allows them to provide the highest level of service possible. Austin residents deserve a timely response and appropriate staffing in the 911 call center, and I look forward to finding the best path for our community.
At the City Council’s online forum this week, other City Council members joined Kelly in pushing for this briefing to be held as early as next week.
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https://www.kvue.com/article/news/police/911-long-wait-times-austin/269-2b323ea3-48eb-4274-a1d2-8b0dd6c24b47 As 911 call center hours lag behind, an Austin City Council member is asking for questions