COBB COUNTY, Ga. — 911 call centers across metro Atlanta are shorthanded, and that could leave families vulnerable during life-or-death moments.
“It can be rather stressful to work shorthanded because we’re working double the calls,” said Cobb County 911 Director Melissa Alterio.
Alterio told Channel 2′s Courtney Francisco that she is currently down 26 employees. She said it’s a serious concern that her team has been able to stay on top of.
“We have seen an actual improvement in our call answer times, which is exceptional for the public,” said Alterio. “I think that speaks to the type of employees we have here. That they’re working shorthanded, but they’re making sure we don’t have any delay in response times.”
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However, Cobb County is one county starting to turn the trend around this year with a record number of people applying for the job. Alterio has received hundreds of applications in 2023. In April, 18 people are slated to start the 911 Academy. Another five people are signed up for the July session.
Alterio said other directors ask her how she does it. She credits the count for offering $4,000 signing bonuses for non-credited dispatchers and $8,000 bonuses for credited dispatchers. Other counties are offering incentives closer to $2,000.
Alterio said morale is also a game-changer for the high-stakes job.
“We have a gym. We have our wellness garden,” said Alterio. “Our motto is: ‘People over process.’”
It will be July before the first round of 18 new hires can answer phones alone.
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Dispatchers at Cobb County said the passion pushes them through the stressful time.
“I save lives. I’m impacting lives one call at a time. That’s what I do,” said dispatcher Desmond Harris.
He was a dispatcher for eight years before getting promoted to administration this year. He’s still filling in on the phones due to low staffing.
“It’s tough, but they train us for resilience, and we’re able to work through those moments,” said Harris.
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Channel 2 Action News reached out to 911 dispatch centers in Fulton, Gwinnett, DeKalb and Clayton counties. Gwinnett County says they currently have 40 open positions. While exact numbers were not readily available for the rest of the counties, all three say they too are experiencing shortages.
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