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Vacancies at Richmond 911 call center worry residents

Posted at 7:13 PM, Jun 19, 2015
and last updated 2015-06-19 19:25:10-04

RICHMOND, Va -- When you're calling for help in an emergency, every second counts. You expect to reach an operator right way. But that could be a problem in Richmond right now, as the 911 call center has 12 open positions.

One local, Donald Corker, says he panicked when he called 911 and couldn't get anyone on the line.

"I was afraid one of the kids was going to get killed," said Corker.

Donald Corker

Donald Corker

Last month, Corker called 911 when he heard gunshots coming from a playground near his South Richmond home. Police didn't respond to the neighborhood until 20 minutes later. But that wasn't until someone else called the non-emergency number and got an answer.

Stephen Willoughby, Director of Richmond's Department of Emergency Communications, wants to encourage individuals to stay on the line. Willoughby says the agency has a shortage of communication officers, but they have filled more than half of the 26 vacancies.

"The challenge we run into is when you call 911 and it's significant such as an accident, a motor vehicle accident or a shooting, you get an influx of calls. Let's say we have 8 Communication officers answering 911 calls. That 9th call is going to have to wait," said Willoughby.

Willoughby tells CBS 6 that 911 operators answer 200 calls a day. Ninety-eight percent of those calls are answered within 30 seconds. The other two percent wait longer depending on the call volume. He points out how non emergency calls are causing delays.

911

"It's a car parked illegally in front of your business. That's not an emergency, so there's no need to tie up a 911 line," said Willoughby

And since Richmond police no longer control the city 911 center, Willoughby is working to streamline the process. He also says one of the reasons the call center was created was to address the vacancies in communications.

CBS 6 checked with Henrico and Chesterfield. Henrico does not have a shortage of 911 operators. We have not heard word yet as to whether Chesterfield has any vacancies.

Willoughby says he is working with those neighboring jurisdictions to hire part-time operators to handle those 911 calls during the 2015 UCI Road World Championships.

The city is encouraging residents to call 804-646-5100 for all non-emergencies.

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