Durham 911 center's response times improve but still don't meet state standard

In early September, Durham City Council member Mark-Anthony Middleton referred to the issue as a "crisis of confidence."
DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- When Durham resident Edward Vick fell off his bicycle he said he laid on the road for 45 minutes before help arrived.

"They kept calling, kept calling," Vick recalled.

He said multiple neighbors rushed to the street after he flew off his bike and attempted to call 911 for him but claimed it took multiple minutes for anyone to get a response.

"It was excruciating pain and I'm listening to everyone trying to get someone to come take me to the hospital," he said.

Vick said once they did reach 911, it still took a long time before an ambulance arrived.

Hospital records show Vick suffered trauma to his head, including a closed fracture. Nearly two months later, scars from his accident remain on his face and arms and he's left wondering why he had to wait so long for help.

"I get swoll up even just thinking about how people could possibly die from you being late," he said.

Over the past few months, ABC11 has shared multiple residents' stories of waiting minutes for someone to pick up their calls during an emergency. Staff shortages and high calls volumes have led to frequent criticism of the center throughout the summer.

In early September, Durham City Council member Mark-Anthony Middleton referred to the issue as a "crisis of confidence."

Newly released data shows Durham's Emergency Communication Center answered 82% of 911 calls in under 10 seconds during September, the same month of Vick's accident. The center's September response times were the best in four months.

North Carolina's standard is for 90% of emergency calls to be answered in 10 seconds or less. Since ABC11's last investigation, response times dipped to their lowest of 2021 with only 74% of calls answered that fast in August.

Around 100 fewer people waited for more than a minute for their call to be answered in September than in August, according to the center's data.

Despite the slight improvement in response times, staffing remains a challenge.

The center reported a third of the center's positions were vacant as of October 7.

During a city council meeting in September, ECC director Randy Beeman acknowledged the center's ongoing issues.

"We are not where we need to be. We are taking appropriate steps to get us to an acceptable standard of call answer times and to meet the expectations of our residents," Beeman told the council.

At the time, Beeman told the council the center was receiving staffing assistance from other public safety personnel, retired staff, and Duke University. A spokesperson for Duke University denied offering support.

Beeman also told the council in September that the center would have 20 more staff hired by the end of the year. He said decreasing training time and increasing incentives would help get the center's staffing up.

While Beeman denied ABC11's request for an interview, in an online video he shared that eight staff members are participating in a training academy currently. A spokesperson for the center also shared the next academy will have 12 trainees and is expected to start November15.

"In several months, we feel like we are going to be in a better place to help address those issues and those shortages in our call center," Beeman said in a video the center recently posted.

Councilmember DeDreana Freedman shared during a city council meeting in September she waited four minutes for a response after calling 911 when a man was shot on Main Street.

Incidents like Freedman and others sparked Middleton to ask for the center to give the city an update in September. He said he is going to continue to advocate for improvement.

"We're going to be very transparent with our residents because this goes to really the basic issue of safety," Middleton said. "You have to have the call answered and help has to come. That's non-negotiable."

He also reaffirmed that Durham is secure and calls are being answered. He encouraged residents to continue to reach out with concerns. While Middleton said he is committed to fixing this issue, he also believes in giving ECC staff time to implement their plans.

"They want to fix this problem. City Hall wants to fix this problem. But you know, finding folks to work in those jobs is really challenging," he said.

Durham officials urge anyone in an emergency to stay on the line rather than repeatedly calling.
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