(Photo by Chinh Doan)
BELL COUNTY (November 4, 2012)--Dispatchers at the Bell County Communications Center, who answer emergency calls for the entire county, say they are working overtime to make sure all calls are answered while officials try to fill more than a dozen open positions.
"One of our challenges is keeping this place staffed because we do work 24/7, which puts a lot of stress on our employees," said Dalton Cross, director of the Bell County Communications Center.
Melissa Williams, a 911 dispatcher for six years, said she has seen it all, but she has never seen so many vacancies.
"Sometimes, since we are short-staffed, we only have two or three call takers," said Williams.
"We want to stay on the phone longer to make sure people are OK, but when the phones are ringing, we have to disconnect."
Center officials say that while performance and service are not affected by the current staffing level it is demanding more of the workers.
"We are extremely proud of the workforce we have, and many of the telecommunicators are working several hours of overtime to meet scheduling needs and work equally hard to get the new ones trained," said Aubrey Hussey.
The turnover rate for 911 dispatchers is generally high.
The center's officials said this is primarily because of the demands of manning an emergency dispatch center around the clock 365 days a year.
Additional factors in Bell County include the proximity to Austin centers with higher pay and military families that transfer out of the area.
"We are having a difficult time finding qualified candidates that can make the schedule work with their personal life, work in a high-pace and stressful work environment and adapt to the complex skills needed to perform the job successfully," Hussey said.
Dispatchers such as Williams said although this is a demanding and challenging position, few jobs or careers are as fulfilling.
"It's a very rewarding career when you can help someone who's in an emergency situation, and at the end of the phone call they genuinely say thank you," Williams said.
In 2011, the Bell County Communications Center answered 192,000 emergency calls, averaging 22 calls an hour.
The current statistics show there we will be as many as 200,000 calls at the end of 2012.