Public safety dispatchers answer emergency phone calls and dispatch police, fire and EMS units. Vermont has a dispatcher shortage, and the problem is getting worse, public safety officials say.
The Vermont Department of Public Safety is working with police agencies throughout the state to address staffing needs at the two state- operated dispatch centers. These centers serve more than 100 public safety agencies as 911 Public Safety Answering Points.
The two centers, in Westminster and Williston, currently work 24/7/365 to answer emergency and non-emergency calls for 162 police, fire and EMS agencies statewide — from the Vermont State Police to local departments. Additionally, the centers serve as administrative switchboards for many agencies.
At both locations, but especially pronounced in Westminster, there is a shortage of trained staff available to handle the current volume of calls, said Public Safety Commissioner Michael Schirling. The situation is expected to become more acute in the coming months, as call volume typically increases during the summer, and additional staff departures are expected.
“All sectors of the economy are being affected by recruitment, staffing and retention challenges, and public safety agencies — among the most important aspects of government service — are experiencing this challenge in critical ways,” Commissioner Schirling said. “As a result, we are taking necessary steps to preserve the core functions of our communications centers. We’re grateful to chiefs and other public safety leaders throughout Vermont for stepping up and helping us implement these important adjustments.”
That core function, Commissioner Schirling said, is to answer emergency calls for service, and to dispatch police, fire and EMS resources as needed. To ensure the capacity of the dispatch centers to handle this primary function, the Department of Public Safety Wednesday announced these changes that will be implemented during the next two weeks:
- Reduce administrative call volume: In addition to answering emergency calls, PSAP staff currently receive non-emergency calls on administrative phone lines on behalf of many agencies. DPS has asked local departments to assist the communication centers by no longer directing their administrative phone lines to ring at the center and instead make arrangements to field the calls themselves.
- Hand off ongoing communications needs to responding fire and EMS agencies: For calls requiring a response from fire and EMS, once an emergency call-taker has dispatched an initial unit, further communications responsibility will be handed off to the local agency. The communication center will continue to be involved if mutual aid is requested, and additional agencies or resources are needed. This operating method has been used historically in DPS communication centers.
- Ask police agencies to rely on the computed-aided dispatch system for routine queries: The Valcour computer-aided-dispatch system, used by all but three police departments throughout Vermont, allows officers to enter routine queries such as records checks. DPS is asking police departments to rely on this system rather than asking a dispatcher to make these queries on the officer’s behalf. The department invested in this technology late last year to provide just this kind of remote connectivity.
The public can expect that calls for first responders to come to a scene will be unaffected, but the way in which business calls are routed to local responders served by the state-run centers might be altered in the days to come — including heavier reliance on automated phone attendants for business calls.
Recruiting, hiring and training future PSAP staff members is a process that takes several months to ensure new dispatchers have a thorough familiarity with their systems and responsibilities.
“Vermonters and those interested in moving to Vermont have an unique opportunity to make an immediate, positive impact on their community: They can apply to be dispatchers,” Commissioner Schirling said. “You can help solve this challenge by coming to work in service to Vermont and your local community at one of our centers.”
The current starting annual salary for a full-time dispatcher with no prior training and experience is about $45,700. The state also offers generous retirement, healthcare benefits and overtime opportunities. More information on the position’s responsibilities and benefits is available on the State of Vermont Careers website at this link, or by searching “PSAP” from the main Careers website.
Categories: Police Reports