Budget Cuts to 911 Center Leading to Longer Wait Times
KXAN Report: kxan.com/2014/02/24/waiting-for-911-overtime-cuts-mean-longer-hold-times/
Email between Public Safety Commission and APD below
Thank you very much for time you spent with me on the phone this am discussing the KXAN story and the internal APD memo (below) along with the related data on the 911 center that reporter Robert Maxwell had to use an FOI request to get. As we discussed, I have no doubt the decision to further reduce the 911 Center’s ’s staffing level was forced on APD by the City Manager’s office which has been very much aware of repeated testimony to the Public Safety Commission on the Center’s lack of an adequate budget for an appropriate and necessary staffing level. Because of the acknowledgement (in the internal e-mail below) the decision to force 911 staffing to an even lower level, despite the center’s now having even fewer staffers than it did a decade ago when call volume was obviously significantly lower, the manager is much more than aware that staff vacancies, staff morale and staff fatigue will continue to suffer and the number of callers being put into a queue for several minutes, listening to “Please don’t hang up. Calls will be answered in the order in which it is received”, will increase. I am most troubled that the manager’s office is forcing APD’s primary response to all challenges (including several ones by the PSC) to 911 staffing be citing misleading averages rather than the much more important indicators: Total number of calls placed on hold and also the number of increments of +1, +2, +5, +10 and +20 minutes. A caller whose house is on fire or whose relative is on the floor with a cardiac will not care about your averages. What’s really awful: Making an APD senior officer say that putting 20,000 callers to 911 on hold is really not as bad as sounds when you look at the big picture. The big picture is that the 911 center is woefully and negligently understaffed.
The elephant in the proverbial closet: The real agenda of the City Manager’s office? I’d bet it’s not about money.
As noted below, since its inception the PSC has made the issues surrounding the 911 center a high priority. It has made multiple recommendations for significantly more 911 call-takers, and certainly not less.
(There is also a dangerous shortage of APD dispatchers. Often a dispatcher is responsible for the communications with 40-50 patrol units.)
Finally, here is an e-mail from UT professor and PSC commissioner (and previous chair) Michael Lauderdale.
Subject: Re: ???? Re: 2/ 25/14 KXAN (below) "Waiting for 911: Overtime cuts lead to longer hold times " (APD internal e-mail re cutting call taker overtime:: purposefully aimed at lowering our 911 Answer Rate [Service Level] in order to be more fiscally respo...
I join Mike Levy in my astonishment at the KXAN report I saw last night. We, the Public Safety Commission, repeatedly looked at the 911 Call Center, its heavy use of overtime, the stress on its call takers and made each July for more than one year and did as recently as July and August of 2013 the call for more resources to address these problems.
City of Austin Public Safety Commission
Clara Pope Willoughby Centennial Professor
From: Michael Levy
Sent: Tuesday, February 25, 2014 7:39 AM
Subject: ???? Re: 2/ 25/14 KXAN (below) "Waiting for 911: Overtime cuts lead to longer hold times " (APD internal e-mail re cutting call taker overtime:: purposefully aimed at lowering our 911 Answer Rate [Service Level] in order to be more fiscally responsible
Please advise asap why most of the critical information in the KXAN article below regarding the City’s 911 program has never been provided to Austin’s Public Safety Commission (and I suspect the Council on orders of the City Manager’s office).
The PSC has asked on multiple times for specific numbers, most especially number of 911 callers put into a recording mode, and APD staff has responded that it did not have the equipment to provide these. APD staff has acknowledged that the 911 center has a high vacancy rate, that morale is low, that turnover is high.
This internal APD e-mail pretty much says it all: ‘This initiative was purposefully aimed at lowering our 911 Answer Rate [Service Level] in order to be more fiscally responsible and to seek out cost-saving measures associated with the 2012 4th Quarter. As a result, we spent a lesser amount of monies towards phone coverage hours directed at 911 services. While we accomplished our target percentage rate, it came at the cost of extended 911 hold times.”
As a reminder, since its inception the PSC has made the issues surrounding the 911 center a high priority. It has made multiple recommendations for significantly more 911 call-takers. Austin’s 911 communications center’s manager testified to the PSC that that she has only 79 call taker positions budgeted, the same number Austin had 10+ years ago when call volume was much, much lower, and that she desperately needs 40% more call takers. 911 is the gatekeeper for EMS, fire and police emergencies. Until a 911 call taker answers, a caller with a house on fire or a relative with a heart attack can only wait. And wait. And wait. Many calls take so long to be answered that they go into a queue and the caller hears a “please don’t hang up…your call will be answered in the order it is received” recording. In bench marking against other 911 centers around the country, Austin did very, very poorly. (In Indianapolis, any delay in answering is deemed unacceptable.) So if you have a medical, fire or police emergency, the likelihood is not insignificant that after you dial 911 you will have to listen to a tape recording for a very, very long time. According to the Austin Police Department, every single day so far this year, someone calling 911 for emergency help was put on hold to listen to a recording before a call taker was eventually available to answer.
Michael R. Levy
Vice Chair / EMS & Fire
Austin Public Safety Commission