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Staffing shortages impact local 911 centers

911 dispatchers
Posted at 6:13 PM, Nov 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-22 14:58:43-05

INDIANAPOLIS — The coronavirus continues to impact 911 centers in our area as call centers are faced with staffing shortages.

WRTV is told stress from the pandemic plays a major role in turnover along with long hours.

"It is definitely something that is a beast that adds to some of the retention that we have," Brent Jensen, Madison County Central Dispatch Center's executive director, said.

Within seconds of dialing 911, dispatchers are there to help.

"Dispatchers are the first responder; they are the first person that anybody talk to," Jensen said.

The volume of calls mixed with high turnover throughout the pandemic is impacting central Indiana dispatch centers.

"Nobody is immune in this industry from it at all. It is definitely hitting everybody the same. Because emergencies didn't stop," Jensen said.

Jensen said some counties are only 50% staffed.

That's not the case for him, but he says employees often work mandatory overtime.

"OT comes in four-hour blocks. If somebody calls in sick, you either come in four hours early or stay four hours after. Our policy is that unless we can help it nobody can work more than 14 hours a day. Occasionally, we will let someone work a double, 16 hour shift. That requires permission," Jensen said.

A lot of that overtime stems from the industry's extensive training.

"That's one of the biggest things we run into is we lose an employee today, it's going to be at least six to eight months until I have somebody to fill that spot," he said.

Jensen said burned-out dispatchers are also leaving to spend more time with family by finding a Monday-Friday job with the same pay.

"This year has been especially bad for us," Jensen said.

Next year, employees here will rotate weekends in effort to retain and recruit more dispatchers.

Indiana recognizes 911 dispatchers as first responders.

Jensen said they're still hoping for that recognition on a federal level. He says that will help alleviate the strain of long hours and open up more benefits to dispatchers.