Memphis 911 sees improvements, still fails to meet goals - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Memphis 911 sees improvements, still fails to meet goals

911 dispatch center (Source: WMC Action News 5) 911 dispatch center (Source: WMC Action News 5)

The Memphis 911 Call Center remains understaffed, but city leaders say improvements are happening. 

The 911 center wants to answer 95 percent of calls in 20 seconds or less. Last year, Memphis accomplished that goal only about 50 percent of the time.

"Our numbers last year were abysmal. It was a disas--I mean, I would say it was a disaster," councilman Worth Morgan said.

City leaders said the call center has improved significantly, but must continue to do so in order to reach the 95 percent goal.

One of the main reasons cited for the call center not reaching the goal yet: a lack of staffing.

Morgan and many other council members want to give the 911 center more resources to hire more people.

"Out of the total compliment, there is about 51 vacancies out of 160 or so slots that we have," Memphis Chief Operations Officer, Doug McGowen, said.

McGowen said call center employees are currently working significant overtime and dispatchers from other agencies are being used to fill gaps in order to keep the center running effectively.

Despite these problems, the call center is still improving. The number of calls answered in 20 seconds increased 20-percent in the past year.

Still, Councilwoman Jamita Swearengen grilled Memphis Fire Director Gina Sweat over whether 911 delays contributed to 10 deaths, including 7 children, in a house fire in South Memphis recently.

"We were dispatched. Our response time was well within, well under the national standard," Sweat said.

In other words, 911 center did it's job right, but sadly, it still didn't save those lives.

Swearengen said it still highlights the need to improve the 911 center, because it could be the difference between life and death for others.

"I applaud you guys for increasing the response time, because when they arrived six minutes later, everybody was gone. So, time is very instrumental," Swearengen said Tuesday during a council meeting. "It's impeccable that you've improved that, because it's instrumental in maintaining lives."

More than 30 dispatchers are finishing training now and will start working next month, but the call center is still looking for more qualified applicants.

Call center leaders said they've had trouble hiring because it's a tough job with tough requirements. Plus, they say the testing process is difficult.

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