Durham's 911 center's response times worsen as calls surge

The increased wait times come as the Durham Emergency Communication Center continues to be short-staffed.
DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- Newly released data revealed response times have worsened throughout 2021.

The Durham Emergency Communication Center publically released data this week that shows nearly three times the number of callers waited a minute or longer for an operator in July than in January.

The increase in wait times is paired with an increase in calls. The county received nearly 7,000 more calls in July than in January.

Last week Durham Mayor Steve Schewel called the nearly 28,000 calls in July a five-year record.

At the start of the year, 84.3% of calls were answered in 10 seconds or less. The latest data showing now only about 75% of calls are answered that fast.

North Carolina's standard is to have 90% of calls answered in 10 seconds or less.

"Until we get that national standard, it's not acceptable and we'll be working every minute," Schewel said during a news conference last week.

The county also did not meet the state standard of answering 95% of calls within 20 seconds. Last month, the center only answering 81% of calls that fast.

ABC11 has heard from numerous viewers who claim to have waited even longer with no response. The data shows those calls make up only a small portion of overcalls. Less than one percent of 911 calls in July took a minute or longer to answer. But, that is still around 2,500 calls.
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"I'm shocked for as long as this has been going on that nothing worse has happened."

Back in January, the center reported far fewer taking longer than one minute to answer; a little over 800.

"It's never acceptable if someone doesn't get a quick response at 911," Schewel said.

The center said a delay in response is often due to a surge of callers.

The increased wait times come as the center continues to be short-staffed. More than 41% of the center's 60 positions are vacant.

A spokesperson for the Durham Emergency Communication Center said they recognize the delays residents are reporting.

"We want you to know that we are working hard to provide the prompt service you rightfully expect," a spokesperson for the center wrote.

The center is working to recruit call takers who have previous experience, expanding the size of their training academy and offering overtime to ensure all shifts are covered.

"We acknowledge having more call takers on staff will put us in a better position to handle surges like these, and the steps outlined above are underway to make progress on staffing," a spokesperson for the center wrote.

Officials urge residents to stay on the line until their call is answered instead of hanging up and calling again.
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