SA deal gives Austin 911 backup, not staff

Austin’s Combined Transportation, Emergency & Communications Center interior (KXAN Photo)
Austin’s Combined Transportation, Emergency & Communications Center interior (KXAN Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A new agreement between Austin and San Antonio will provide backup for the 911 call centers in each of the cities. But for Austin’s Combined Transportation, Emergency & Communications Center, the deal does not help in one particular area of great need.

“It is really designed for disaster situations where we will have a facility to back us up,” said Commander Darryl Jamail with the Austin Police Department’s Emergency Communications.

Such a situation arose in December 2013 when a technological error put 911 dispatchers at CTECC off the grid. During that five-hour stretch, 911 calls were diverted to Round Rock’s dispatch center. The partnership between Austin and Round Rock will continue, but San Antonio’s facility will provide an even bigger backup if the call center is unable to take calls in disaster or outage scenarios. Austin will also provide the same backup to SA.

But the partnership will not provide any relief to the staffing shortage KXAN investigations found have led to increased stress and burnout in call takers.

“It is not a solution to a staffing shortage,” said Jamail. “This plan with San Antonio is not a way to have an overflow call center.”

Jamail said call taker positions have been approved and a plan is in place for additional positions to serve a growing city, but in recent years, overtime has been used to make sure all lines are manned; a method not meant for the long term. Despite staffing issues, Jamail said all lines are open and staffed and Austin does meet the national standard of answering 90 percent of calls within 10 seconds.

According to the item approved by the Austin City Council, Austin always has at least 10 call-takers on duty, but San Antonio has anywhere from 17-35.

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