Ky. dispatch center struggling with rising calls, declining staff

The Enhanced 911 Center, which answered 477,711 calls last year, has 65 staffers, a drop of about 20 percent from 1998


By Beth Musgrave
Lexington Herald-Leader

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Lexington’s 911 emergency center is struggling to keep up as fewer call takers and dispatchers attempt to answer a swelling number of calls and help an increasing number of police and firefighters, city officials said Tuesday.

The Enhanced 911 Center answered 477,711 calls last year. Of those, more than 217,000 are 911 or emergency calls. That’s a 55 percent increase from 1998. The center has 65 staffers, a drop of about 20 percent from 1998, according to information provided Tuesday to the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council Planning and Public Safety Committee.

Robert Stack, the director of the Enhanced 911 Center, told the committee he will ask for six additional call takers for the fiscal year that begins July 1, 2020, to keep up with demand. The extra staff will cost approximately $276,000, but roughly half that amount can come from a dedicated 911 fund, not the city’s general fund.

“There are no efficiencies left,” Stack said.

Stack said there is high-turnover among call takers.

“It’s one of the few positions where you can’t go to the bathroom (if there is a call waiting),” Stack said.

Stack said the proliferation of cell phones means that instead of one phone call about a car wreck they sometimes get a dozen phone calls about the same wreck, he said.

“It’s a blessing and a curse,” Stack said of cell phones.

The staffing request was part of a five-year, long-term plan for Enhanced 911 presented Tuesday to the council committee. In future years, the city will likely have to spend money updating technology, he said.

Lexington recently opened a new fire station in Masterson Station. It also has added additional police officers in recent years.

Despite those additions, there has not been an increase in dispatchers who communicate with police and fire, Stack said.

A single dispatcher in Lexington has more than 40 police officers to communicate with. In comparison, Kentucky State Police dispatchers have less than 10 officers, he said.

The city added six temporary dispatchers two years ago after members of the Lexington Fire Department union raised concerns that too many people were being put on hold when they called 911 or for non-emergency calls. The move was also prompted after 23 horses died on a horse farm in rural Fayette County. In that case, it was alleged that it took the fire department too long to get to the fire.

Stack said 98.5 percent of 911 emergency calls are answered in less than 10 seconds.

There are currently 27 call takers and 31 dispatchers in the Enhanced 911 Center. The remaining seven staffers are supervisors or in other positions.

Stack said the division recently went through a national accreditation review. The Enhanced 911 Center will likely be the first in the state to receive a Public Safety Communications Accreditation.

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©2019 the Lexington Herald-Leader (Lexington, Ky.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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