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Bucks County 911 Call Centers Suffering Staffing Shortages: 'It Has Been A National Problem For Many Years'

FEASTERVILLE, Pa. (CBS) -- Staffing shortages are impacting many critical care jobs across the country, and that includes those first to answer the call in an emergency. Nationwide, 911 call centers are struggling with up to 50% of their dispatcher jobs sitting empty.

In Bucks County, one in five 911 call center positions is currently sitting vacant.

"Systemically for 911, it has been a national problem for many years," said John Geib, director of emergency communications for Bucks County.

It's a startling thought -- no one there to answer the phone in an emergency.

"This is not an industry where there is a surplus of people," Geib said.

Inside Bucks County's 911 call center, trained dispatchers triage more than 1,500 calls every day -- a number that can skyrocket in a moment's notice, including last July, when an EF-3 tornado touched down in Trevose.

"They were handling over 700% more calls on a day like that," Geib said.

But having someone there, when every second matters, isn't guaranteed.

"Currently, there are 25 total position vacancies in the department, 21 of those are front-line dispatchers," Geib said.

In a profession plagued with burnout and one that requires three to five months of training uptime, backfilling isn't a quick fix, especially since COVID-19.

"Twelve-hour shifts and you're working nights, weekends, holidays," Geib said.

Something that long-term could put every call at risk, but for now, this team says they are ready when everything is on the line.

"There's always a plan A, B, and C," Geib said. "That's our normal course of business."

In Bucks County, they're using social media to recruit younger talent and say some of the best dispatchers are former waiters, waitresses, and bartenders who are strong at multitasking and working with people.

Anyone interested can find out more here.

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