911 response times slower in Austin as population increases


by KRIS BETTS / KVUE News and photojournalist JP HARRINGTON

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Posted on July 3, 2013 at 9:49 PM

Updated Thursday, Jul 4 at 8:20 AM

AUSTIN -- Austin’s 911 Call Center, based out of the Combined Transportation, Emergency and Communications Center in North Austin is becoming increasingly flooded with emergency calls.

“As the city continues to annex additional properties and the city grows, the call volumes grow,” said Emergency Communications Manager Marcia Brooks.

However, Brooks said for the past decade, even though the city has grown, they’ve had the exact same number of 911 operators.

“We have not had a net increase in our call taker population in over 10 years," she said.

According to the city’s website, 687,000 people lived in Austin in 2003. In 2013, that number jumped to 842,000. That's an increase of 155,000 people. So why no additional 911 operators? Brooks says it's because of budget constraints.

“Those individuals who control the budget had to make some really tough decisions," she said.

Brooks said she's requested more funding from the City each of the past five years, and while it did step in to make up for an expired grant in 2011, there's been no additional money to add more operators.

“I feel terrible that any citizen has to wait in order to get a 911 call answered,” she said.

The number of 911 calls answered within 10 seconds has dropped from 96 percent in 2012, to 92 percent in 2013.

That’s still above the national average of 90 percent, but Brooks said she wants all calls to be answered within 10 seconds or less.

“I have two small children, so I cringe when I look at these numbers," she said.

Additionally, Brooks said of the 72,000 calls they receive every month, on average, 1.3 percent of callers have to wait more than a minute to talk to an operator.

There are a total of 100 operators at the 911 call center. That's 100 people to serve nearly one million citizens 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The Austin City Council will decide on the emergency center's budget this September.