Changes made to speed up response times at Dallas 911 call center

The new person in charge of Dallas' 911 call center is making changes to try to solve the problem of people being placed on hold in an emergency.

One of the changes reduces a call taker's breathing room between calls. The National Emergency Number Association says that could cause unintended consequences.

From the time a 911 call ends in Dallas to the time the operator receives the next one is now only 4 seconds. Before the new policy went into effect in February, call takers had 20 seconds of wrap up time.

A watchdog group believes the reduced down time could lead to burnout or worse.

"If you are looking for every second of every hour to be occupied, you are looking for a disaster," said Gary Bell, NENA president.

He says it should be up to call takers to decide when their wrap up time is complete.

"Need time to calm down and take a breath so we can be at our best for the next call," Bell said.

But in Dallas only 60 percent of 911 calls are answered within the goal of 10 seconds. Best practice is for 90 percent of calls to be answered in that time frame. It's why the city's new police communications coordinator Rober Uribe is making changes, some of which are not popular.

"Hold times has improved five seconds on average," he said.

Uribe says in his 20 years in law enforcement, wrap up time between calls was always under five seconds -- including in San Antonio where he worked the last eight years.

He also points out that call takers can pause the clock if necessary.

"Everyone is authorized to use the ‘not ready button’ when finalizing a 911 call," he said.

Uribe says he is working to improve morale in the call center, which is currently only staffed at 70 percent.

"It's national telecommuters week and we are always looking for ways to improve morale," he said.

Bell says 911 call taker staffing shortages are a nationwide phenomenon. But he says to retain staff, agencies need to trust their people to know when to answer the next call.

"We don't take compliments on 911, we take tragedies. Need time to process, we are not robots, we are human beings," Bell said.