By Bill Oakey – June 30, 2014
Following a KXAN news investigative report and appeals from this blog, the City Council last Thursday took action to hire more call takers for the 911 EMS system. In accordance with my recommendation, they will hire 7 new positions using leftover funds to make the positions available without waiting for the new budget that begins on October 1st.
The critical staff shortages in the City’s Emergency Communications Center have persisted since the summer of 2011, with costly annual expenditures of $1 million for overtime, burned-out employees, and citizens being placed on hold during emergencies. Even the disastrous Halloween flood from last year was not enough to prod the City into action. The Public Safety Commission had voted numerous times to ask for more emergency operators.
Because of a State-mandated certification requirement, the new hires will need to complete an interim training program, which will be provided by the City. For details on the training requirement and job transition, see this document. Interested job applicants can read the announcement and file an application here.
The Thursday Council meeting was very contentious otherwise. The highlight of the day was their broken promise to scores of citizens who filled the chambers, hoping to speak on a $1 billion urban rail and road initiative. Mike Martinez and Sheryl Cole, both candidates for mayor, joined the majority in voting to break the promise and limit the number of speakers. Many of the rail activists took their anger and frustration into weekend gatherings and online discussions aimed at mounting a strong opposition to the November rail bond election.
By Bill Oakey – May 31, 2014
When KXAN aired their investigative report this week on staff shortages at the City’s 911 Call Center, I assumed that the problems with burned out workers, call takers putting citizens on hold, and high overtime costs for taxpayers were a relatively recent problem.
Sadly, I was wrong. The Austin American-Statesman ran a story on June 27, 2011 with the headline, “An Emergency at the City’s 911 Call Center?” Here are the first two sentences from that story:
“Austin 911 officials say they are so strapped for operators that they have routinely spent $1 million or more for overtime and for temporary workers to fill shifts, even as thousands of callers waited on hold sometimes for minutes at a time because no one could immediately answer.”
“The city has not added any new operator positions to a staff of about 200 in nearly a decade, despite nearly 25 percent more calls to the center and repeated requests from call center managers. ”
Nearly three years later, just this past week, we heard this from Robert Maxwell at KXAN:
“Records show Austin 911 paid out nearly $1 million in overtime and for temporary workers this fiscal year. Some of the overtime was aimed at curbing the staff shortage problem due to scheduling issues or staff calling in sick.”
There is talk swirling around in some quarters that a new report to address the problems may be coming. KXAN has seen a draft of this report, but no one at City Hall seems to know if or when it will be released. Meanwhile, the City Manager’s formal budget proposal is due to be presented to the City Council in late July.
This morning at the Citizens Forum at the City Council, I made an attempt to jump-start some relief for the beleaguered 911 Call Center workers and a chance at better efficiency for the taxpayers. Here is a KXAN website report on that. The story should run on this evening’s 6:00 PM news. (Saturday)
We need to rally our friends to contact the City Council and ask them to do a budget amendment from surplus funds to hire some new 911 Call Center staff. If you agree that 1,070 consecutive days is long enough to wait for this critical public safety issue to be resolved, you can email all 7 City Council Members here with a single click.