CHATHAM COUNTY, Ga. (WTOC) - Constant ringing is the last thing you want to hear if you need help and dial 911. Unfortunately, it’s happening in Chatham County because of a critical workforce shortage at the 911 center.
“If you have a critical shift shortage or personnel shortage then that will further tax the resources that are available,” Dianne Pinckney, the center’s director, said. “What we would tell the public is to stay on the line until somebody answers because if you hang up and dial us back, that might be a further delay.”
Sonia Hunt said she called 911 needing police. Hunt said a woman came to her door saying she’d been robbed and nearly kidnapped at a nearby cemetery.
“First time it just rang and rang and rang, and I’m saying I know normally by about the third ring or fourth they should pick up,” Sonia Hunt said.
She hung up and called again.
“The lady answered, the dispatcher, and I said what’s the problem? What’s taking so long to answer the phone? ‘Oh, we short of help.’ What do you mean you’re short of help,” Hunt said.
While that news surprised her, the county has been fighting the staffing shortage for months. The department has 73 communication officer positions. One in four is vacant.
The county is actively working to fill vacancies through public outreach and job fairs. Pinckney and her team said the department is fighting low pay, job stress, and a misconception over communications being a dead-end job.
“A lot of people see communications as an entry-level position, but you can actually come here and make a career here,” Russ Palmer, the center’s deputy director, said.
The hiring problem in Chatham County is not unique, according to Palmer.
“In this industry, there’s a huge turnover rate nationwide,” Palmer said. “We’re not the only that’s faced with a crisis or staffing problem.”
The 911 center is revamping the training process to make new hires more well-rounded and to better prepare them to keep the job.
Hunt said the situation she dealt with should concern anyone who might call 911.
“What if somebody had knocked me down, or a shooting or it could be my neighbor’s house burning on fire or your baby stop breathing? It could’ve been you calling,” Hunt said. “It could be one of your family members. It could be anybody.”
The 911 director said they’re currently reviewing dozens of applications. Unfortunately, the hiring process is tough, and the training process is long. They encourage anyone who may be interested in this work to apply here.
The 911 center did just roll out some new software that helps them respond better to emergency calls. The system is called Rapid SOS. It allows a dispatcher to see the caller’s location during the call. This is especially helpful when the caller isn’t familiar with Chatham County. Dispatchers can now send first responders to a more precise location.
To apply now online, click here.