Charleston County faces shortage of 911 operators

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Charleston County is short more than 45 people who handle 911 calls, according to Director of the Charleston County Consolidated 911 Center Jim Lake.

Lake said the 911 operator deficit has been a problem for Charleston County for more than two years.

“We actually did a media announcement letting the public know we were short staffed and they could expect maybe some longer wait times on their calls,” Lake said.

However, 89 percent of 911 calls were answered within 10 seconds in 2017, according to data from Charleston County. In 2018, 87 percent of calls were answered within 10 seconds.

“From the time we get the call to the time it is dispatched, we still are doing a great job,” Lake said. “It’s getting out the door as quickly as it should.”

Lake said the 911 operator shortage has most impacted the workers, who have to work long hours and take on more calls.

In 2018, Charleston County 911 operators worked 63,526 hours of overtime and 181,058.25 regular hours.

“In some cases, some of them are working 22 days straight in order to make sure when the public calls, someone is there to answer their call,” Lake said.

Lake said the shortage does not come from a lack of people applying for the job.

Since June 1, more than 670 people have applied to be 911 operators, but only 38 have been qualified and advanced through the application process.

To become an operator, applicants have to pass a background check, polygraph test, drug test and other requirements.

On average, 28 to 31 dispatch operators are working at any given time. Lake said they would like to increase that number to about 35 operators.

911 operators in Charleston County handle hundreds of thousands of calls every year.

In 2017, 310,665 calls were made to 911 in Charleston County. 314,880 calls were made to dispatch in 2018.

Lake and the rest of the dispatch center workers are hoping more people apply who have a calling to help their neighbors.

“We help deliver children,” Lake said. “We help people in their greatest need. That’s the kind of people we’re looking for is the people who are dedicated to giving back and providing service in their community.”

According to data provided by the dispatch center, 911 operators in Charleston County make $15.91 on average.

You can apply to be a 911 operator in Charleston County through the county’s website.

Copyright 2019 WCSC. All rights reserved.

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