911 dispatch debate continues

Published 11:28 am Thursday, October 1, 2015

For the third time in three months, the Warren County E-911 Commission renewed its call for additional dispatchers despite the objection of Vicksburg Mayor and 911 Commissioner George Flaggs Jr.

The combined city-county dispatch center has 17 full-time dispatchers and three who work part time, which for the amount of local call volume is the national standard, E-911 Director Chuck Tate said.

“All the worksheets that I find end up showing that we need at least five people per shift based on the call volume,” Tate said.

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At least three certified dispatchers per shift are required to operate the center. In order to get five people per shift, E-911 would need 25 dispatchers. Tate and other officials say the center would operate much better with one more person per shift.

“I really don’t think we need to go that high. I think just having one additional person per shift would make all the difference in the world,” Tate said.

Flaggs in August said the city would not fund additional dispatchers. He did not attend Wednesday’s meeting but later said he did not support adding additional dispatchers.

“The state took the population and the calls and took a look at the overtime. If they were on an 8-hour shift that wouldn’t be the case,” Flaggs said before Wednesday’s Board of Mayor and Alderman meeting.

Tate has said that running an eight-hour shift would increase the number of needed dispatchers.

Flaggs said he plans to travel to Lee County later this month to see how their dispatch center works.

“They’ve got far more population and far more agencies they serve and they don’t have but 20,” Flaggs said.

Lee County began Thursday running five dispatchers per shift on four shifts for a total of 20 full-time dispatchers, Lee County E-911 Director Paul Harkins said.

“We got them added for the new fiscal year,” Harkins said.

Previously Lee County had four dispatchers per shift, he said.

The Lee County system receives between 14,000 and 15,000 calls per month while placing about 5,000 outgoing calls per month, Harkins said.  Vicksburg Warren County E-911 handles between 20,000 and 25,000 incoming and outgoing calls per month, according to E-911 records.

“We probably do need to have employees staffed a little bit better. I know I would agree that we need five people in that center most of the time,” Vicksburg Fire Chief and 911 Commissioner Charles Atkins said. “Anytime that we spike — get call after call after call — sometimes those calls are going to a phone service that takes a message. I don’t like that.”

Flaggs also suggested hiring extra part time personnel in addition to the three who already fill in on weekday lunches and off-shifts. Hiring part-time dispatchers is almost impossible because they need about a year of full-time training, Tate said.

Harkins agreed, saying part-time help is difficult to find.

“We are not in business to make money. We’re in business to provide a service,” Tate said.