Merger in the making for Tucson 911 center - Tucson News Now

Merger in the making for Tucson 911 center

Your call to 911 is answered by a 911 operator. (Source: KOLD News 13) Your call to 911 is answered by a 911 operator. (Source: KOLD News 13)
TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

Jobs in a 911 communication center come with long hours, short breaks, plenty of stress and constant turnover.

So why would the city of Tucson consider adding to the responsibilities for the staff inside already focused on multiple screens?

It could reduce the turnover and the wait time for emergency calls, according to supervisors leading the research and training for a possible merger of multiple positions between the Tucson Police Department and Tucson Fire Department.

CALLING 911

Your call to 911 is answered by a 911 operator. It's up to the operator to asses your call and decide which agency is best suited to handle your emergency.

You're then transferred and potentially put on hold.

"There are times that ... because of our staffing levels, people call ... and they're waiting a little longer than they should be," Communications Superintendent Angela Jackson said.

She said it's one of the driving forces behind the potential specialist position, which would have the same person stay with you through every step of the 911 call.

WHO'S ON THE OTHER END?

Deputy Chief of Communications Chris Conger acknowledged that it would require more training and responsibilities for current employees, but he said a quality assurance program is being researched that would have supervisors listening in on calls to make sure the new position doesn't overwhelm anyone.

"It's tough to keep staff because of the stress of the job," he said. "Obviously a lot more goes into staffing than just that, but we have our challenges and we're making some efforts to try to overcome that right now."

Current solutions to help with staffing until the merger can be approved include hiring back former experienced employees who can help cover shifts and moving uniformed personnel who need time off the street to a headset in the call center.

Emergency call centers average a 50 percent turnover rate, according to Jackson. She said Tucson is no different, but the phones are always staffed no matter how fully staffed they are.

The job is not for everyone, but those who stick are dedicated. Lisa Turner, a police service operator, joined the communications team in 2011. She said it's the best job she's ever had.

"It is not a fun job, but it has a lot of purpose to it," she said. "I'm not one of those people who doesn't know why I go to my job. I know exactly why I go to my job."

She's open to the possibility of some additional training, larger workload and potentially sending help sooner to the people who call 911.

"Callers will feel less frustrated, I think, and they'll get better service," Turner said. "So it's a really big challenge but once everything is up and operating I think it'll be fine."

All this work wouldn't go unnoticed, according to Jackson. She said supervisors will conduct a market analysis to learn the fair market price for the new, universal job in the call center.

She said they've also taken notes from the city of Denver and Fairfax County, VA. She noted that both areas are much larger than Tucson but they have a similar number of emergency calls.

The merger with the two departments is still in its early stages, according to Jackson and Conger. They said teams are already cross-training so they can hit the ground running if and when the merger is approved.

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