The short answer is: Yes.
It has taken years of neglect by the BOCC for us to get here, but I think we can save it if it's not too late. Last Thursday our 911 department was on the HR agenda. I asked to get it on the meeting. Why?
Because we are now down to just 9 agents in a 25 seat department. It's on the verge of collapse.
You see, the Sheriff's Office has been requesting pay increases for operators for a long time, well before my time. The solutions given to 911 management has been half-measures at best. That changed this past Thursday.
Fortunately, and after several minutes of questions, we got the department the money it needs to (hopefully) stop the departure of existing 911 dispatchers and maybe even recruit back some employees who left us. (I posted the video of that exchange below for you to see.)
Isn't Your Use of the Word "Collapse" a Little Extreme?
No, it is not.
You see, when a 24/7 department gets to only 1/3 its normal staffing, things start to break apart.
To begin with, put youself in a dispatcher's "shoes" for a moment and realize that with 25 shifts to be shared by only nine dispatchers, you can expect to not see your family very much in the coming months, including the holidays.
Next, do not expect to be well rested very much while you're working upwards of 80-90 hours per week.
Next, hope that a co-worker doesn't call in sick and you have to pick up that shift, too.
Next, if you're lucky and a new hire makes it through classes, you will have to train that person...while making sure quality levels don't suffer more.
Next, do not expect meaningful relief for months while you continue to hire slowly, hope nobody else leaves, and you have to train replacements.
From the taxpayer perspective:
Expect quality levels and the ability to handle multiple emergencies to diminish. In today's day and age where everyone has a cell phone, when somebody gets into a car accident it doesn't take but a few calls for all of our dispatchers to be addressing that single event.
Expect more tax dollars to have to go to recruting and training new hires (if you can get them) to replace departing staff.
And worst case expect to have to spend hundreds of thousands (if not millions) more to hire contractors just to provide relief to existing dispatchers and to keep them from just bailing on the county because the working conditions are so poor.
This is the downward spiral that occurs when you neglect departments for many years and go cheap. It often costs a lot more in the long run to repair the damage.
I hope we got to our 911 department before it's too late. Here's the exchange between the affected parties and the County Commissioners. I was surprised at how the viewpoints shifted between the other commissioners.