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Emergency communications director defends 911 service

Posted by: Maya Rao under Politics and government Updated: March 19, 2014 - 5:09 PM

In the wake of reports that the city’s 911 call center is overextended, an emergency communications director told City Council members today that more employees have been hired and cross-trained to improve service.

The city's 911 staff includes 68 operators and dispatchers – in line with recommendations from a professional staffing study – and six new ones were brought on this month, said Heather Hunt, director of emergency communications. She said another six would be hired this year.

At least nine are on duty even in slow hours, and more than three-quarters have been cross-trained in both answering and dispatching calls, as part of an effort that began three years ago, Hunt told the Public Safety, Civil Rights and Emergency Management Committee.

“We are trying to get ahead of the game and with this next influx of staffing I think we’ll be able to get there,” she said.

Hunt said that a Next-Generation 911 system to be implemented next year, linking Minneapolis’ system with other emergency call centers and hospitals in the metro, will have the capability to route calls to other centers.

Karen Bailey said afterwards that she felt the hearing did not address her concerns with 911. She said her mother, Arcola Tullis, called 911 when her father Raymond Callihan was having a heart attack and was told to call back, and was later put on hold.

Callihan later died at the hospital.

“That wasn’t right,” she said, tearing up. “They didn’t show .. respect to my mom.”

Elizabeth Roether, a police and fire dispatcher, said outside council chambers that the presentation “definitely puts on a good show," but that staff are being rushed through training and at times only one or two people are answering 911 calls.

Even though Hunt says nine employees are on duty at all times, she said, many of them are doing supervisory work or dispatching, instead of taking calls.

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