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Dispatchers taking longer to answer 911 calls in Minneapolis

May 23, 2019 06:26 PM

It's taking longer for 911 dispatchers in Minneapolis to answer calls.

New data presented to the Minneapolis City Council Thursday afternoon indicates the department is failing to meet national standards on how quickly calls should be answered.

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Those national standards dictate that when someone calls 911, a dispatcher should answer in 15 seconds or less 95 percent of the time and 99 percent of the time within 40 seconds or less.

However, the report from the Minneapolis Emergency Communications Center shows Minneapolis falls short of both national standards.

In 2018, 92 percent of calls were answered within 15 seconds and 98 percent were answered within 40 seconds.

Those numbers are down from 2017, when 95 percent of calls were answered within 15 seconds and 99 percent within 40 seconds.

"Our answer times are directly impacted by the number of staff we have available to answer the phone," said Christine McPherson, interim director of the Minneapolis Emergency Communications Center.

According to the City of Minneapolis, the Minneapolis Emergency Communications Center experienced an employee turnover rate of 21.52 percent.

McPherson said the increase in employee turnover led to longer wait times for callers.

"I think a lot of people come into this job and they don't realize it truly is 365 days a year," said McPherson. "Even after 15 to 20 years, you still don't get weekends off."

But, McPherson concedes, another reason dispatchers are taking longer to answer calls could be the switch to a new computer program called ProQA.

A 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS In-Depth report in November of 2018 showed how the ProQA program requires dispatchers to ask callers specific questions in a specific order.

That change resulted in a longer average time for the center's highest priority calls.

McPherson admitted ProQA also contributed to some dispatchers choosing to quit.

"Switching technology is a big reason why there will be turnover in agencies," said McPherson. "Every agency around here that's experienced a spike in turnover has been related to some piece of technology that's been implemented."

McPherson said a new class of dispatchers will be answering calls by mid-July.

They're also working to recruit even more candidates who might not have thought of becoming a dispatcher otherwise.

In her presentation to the Minneapolis City Council Thursday afternoon, McPherson said 36 more dispatchers are needed to ensure calls are answered in 15 seconds or less.

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Tim Vetscher

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