County warned of ‘unsafe’ 911 staffing

Daniel Mintz
Mad River Union

HUMBOLDT – Humboldt County’s 911 emergency dispatch center has staffing levels that are unsafe, a consultant has told the Board of Supervisors. 

The 911 call center’s staffing situation was discussed at the Dec. 8 Board of Supervisors as Jaime Young of the Mission Critical Partners consulting firm presented the results of studies on the center’s staffing  and the feasibility of consolidating county Sheriff’s Office 911 dispatch center with those of police departments and fire districts. 

Young told supervisors that the county center’s staffing consists of nine full-time dispatchers and a supervisor. 

The center’s two 911 consoles are sometimes attended to by two dispatchers but with the current staffing, that’s often not possible. 

Young said that “during low staffing periods, which there have been recently,” the staffing decreases to one dispatcher from 1 a.m. to 7 a.m. Monday through Thursday. 

“I will tell you that at a minimum, two staff should be on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” she continued. “It is really particularly unsafe for one person to be in the dispatch center running the operations by themselves for any period of time.” 

The study found that there has been a close to 70 percent increase in 911 call volume since 2014. “The weight of the workload is there on top of the increase in the workload,” she continued, referring to the increased complexity of communications networks. 

Dispatchers work 12-hour shifts. The work is grinding when a single dispatcher staffs a call center. 

 “The stress is accumulative, it’s pressing on them … it’s really not a safe situation for staff to have to go through,” Young said. 

She added that since “leaving one dispatcher in the 911 center is not in line with best practices … it’s pretty obvious that more staff is needed.” 

Accounting for turnover, it will take 13 line dispatchers to bring the county into standard practice, Young said. The nine dispatchers now working are “incredibly overtasked with overtime and trying to make up for existing vacancies in the dispatch center due to leave and continuous turnover,” she continued. 

She said the dispatchers have “done a spectacular job in keeping up with everything that’s been put in front of them but I do think it’s time for the staffing equation to be looked at.” 

Supervisors then fielded a presentation on consolidating 911 call centers but Supervisor Rex Bohn advised a focus on the county center’s staffing. 

“The first thing we have to address is our own back yard, right now,” he said. “We have a staffing issue and it’s not going to get any easier if we have 911 calls with COVID -- I worry about mental health issues, family issues and the domestic violence issues that the proposed lockdown is going to bring onto people.” 

Concerned that “our 911 system is going to get overwhelmed,” Bohn said that “this is an important part of our job, to make sure that one of our critical services is covered.”

He concluded by saying, “It doesn’t matter how many boots we have on the ground if they don’t get the call.” 

Supervisors voted to form an ad hoc committee composed of Bohn and Supervisor Mike Wilson to bring back recommendations on call center staffing and the consolidation. 

Young had said that county and municipal law enforcement agencies use the same dispatch communications equipment, which is “one huge obstacle out of the way when looking at consolidation.” 

The county will consider a variety of options, including doing full or partial consolidations and incorporating fire protection districts. 


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