KSAT Defenders investigation: 911 answering delays plague Bexar County

Dispatch manager: Not enough staff to handle call volume

SAN ANTONIO - Major delays in answering 911 calls at the Bexar County Public Safety Communications Center -- where the county's 911 dispatchers are located -- are forcing 911 callers to wait for up to 10 minutes before getting an operator on the line.

Of the 10,591 911 calls placed with county dispatchers in October, 1,048 took a dispatcher longer than two minutes to pick up the call, according to county records.

Some 820 took between one and two minutes; 1,638 took between 21 and 60 seconds; 1,382 took between 11 and 20 seconds. A total 5,703 took between zero and 10 seconds.

Those figures are far below national standards set by the National Emergency Number Association, a widely-recognized national accrediting agency.

To meet NENA standards, agencies must answer 90 percent of all 911 calls within 10 seconds. In October, Bexar County only managed to do that approximately 53 percent of the time.

County Dispatch Manager Robert Adelman, who oversees all 911 operations, said the lackluster numbers center on staffing issues.

He said in order to properly meet the needs of the county’s approximately 400,000 residents, he would need 30 operators.

He currently operates with 11.

“It’s incredibly frustrating, because we ask for more dispatchers every year,” said Adelman.

Adelman must request any increase in staffing through Commissioners’ Court during the budget process each year. He said he has been repeatedly denied any increases.

Budget documents show the dispatch office has 11 active 911 operators, one less than the 12 it operated with in 2007.

“The county population has not remained static over those years, and the amount of work our agency must do has increased,” said Adelman.

County Manager David Smith disagreed with Adelman, and said the dispatch office was given six additional positions last year.

In 2008, the county froze seven positions in the dispatch office. It then unfroze six of those last year, allowing for the hiring of six new people, but still leaving the dispatch office at 2007 staffing levels.

Smith also argued that the county has invested millions into new technology in the office, which he said should have reduced the call-wait times.

But Adelman countered, and said technology can only go so far, and you eventually have to have the people to implement the technology.

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