With burnout a constant, emergency communications centers throughout the Kansas City metro area are struggling with shortages of dispatchers so routine that agencies are virtually never fully staffed. At one point recently in Independence, MO, almost half the dispatching jobs were empty, reports the Kansas City Star.
Officials say the shortages are not harming agencies' responses to emergencies but the vacancies feed the cycle: Overtime is often required to make up for worker shortages, meaning longer hours, more burnout. Shifts can average 12 hours.
"It's a nationwide problem," said Rhonda Harper, Independence's 9-1-1 administrator who oversees the Independence Police Department's emergency communication center.
Harper was hopeful her center would be fully staffed when the new budget year begins in July — if, of course, no one leaves.
When agencies lose dispatchers, it's not usually to another call center. Rather, the stressful nature of the job results in many workers leaving the occupation altogether.
"Unfortunately, that is the reality," she said.