Bell Country struggling to hire 911 operators; leading to concerns over emergency response times

Published: Mar. 9, 2022 at 5:21 PM CST
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BELTON, Texas (KWTX) - There are fewer 911 call takers and dispatchers to respond to emergency calls at the Bell County Communication Center as a nationwide worker shortage slows down the hiring process.

The Bell County 911 Center in Belton received about 700 calls every day. That is where Cristina Partida has worked for 20 years as a call taker and dispatcher.

“I know its mostly behind the scenes, but you still help people,” Partida said. “You’re the first voice they hear.”

As rewarding as the job can be, the county told KWTX hiring people to be 911 operators has been difficult, especially, with a nationwide worker shortage.

“We’ve been trying to really push and get back out there at job fairs, but we are just not seeing the interest. We are not getting the applications we saw before COVID19 or even during the pandemic, too,” said Aubrey Huckaby, the Director of Operations of the Bell County Communications Center.

Although changes caused by the pandemic have largely been the cause of the nationwide worker shortage, Huckaby said, in their case, due to the nature of the 911 operator job, it has always been a bit difficult to find workers.

“It’s not a role that you can leave at work when you go home at the end of the day, so it takes a toll,” Huckaby said. “But it is challenging, it’s rewarding, it’s fulfilling. You really get to be a part of the public safety process in the county but it’s difficult.”

At full staffing, the communications center should have 73 call takers and dispatchers. Currently, there are about 20 vacancies. Officials said if things get worse, it could mean delays in answering 911 calls. But they are working to prevent that with the staffing they do have.

“Answering 911 calls is probably our first priority but I’m sure there are times when we have to call somebody back because we weren’t able to answer before they hung up,” Huckaby said.

The burden on the dispatch center is heavy considering they are the call center for every police, fire, and EMS in the county.

“We are the only public safety answering point in the entire county, so we dispatch for 50 to 60 agencies,” said Michael Harmon, Executive Director of the Bell County Communication Center.

Typically, staff are split to either be a 911 call taker answering calls form the public or being a dispatcher-- getting information to the appropriate first responders. However, due to the shortage of workers, officials say staff have often had to do both at the same time.

Partida says although it’s been a hectic few months with limited staffing, she continues to answer calls knowing she’s making a difference.

“You just get that feeling that you’ve helped somebody at the end of the day or several people at the end of the day,” she said. “You never know what’s on the other side of than line when you pick it up.”

Starting pay is $17.60 per hour with other benefits. You can click here to find more information about the open jobs and how to apply.

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