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Despite new hires, E-911 still faces dispatcher shortage

By By Sheila Blackmon/The Meridian Star
April 11, 2001
Lauderdale County supervisors put six city E-911 dispatchers on the E-911 Commission's payroll earlier this month, but E-911 still has a dispatcher shortage.
Training E-911 dispatchers to handle Metro's calls also a factor in an interlocal agreement between Meridian and Lauderdale County officials to consolidate E-911 may come later, Hitt said.
The dispatcher shortage resulted when five city dispatchers chose to return to their former Civil Service positions with the city of Meridian late last year.
Supervisors passed the agreement with Meridian in January, then gave city dispatchers a grace period in which they were to choose whether they wanted to become E-911 dispatchers or take jobs with the city.
The agreement called for a doubling of surcharge rates with additional funds to be split between Lauderdale County and Meridian.
City, county and Metro dispatchers were to be cross-trained to handle all calls, but a Metro dispatcher, manager and supervisor threw a kink in the plan when they came before supervisors at a work session in late December.
They were concerned that their consolidating with E-911 would reduce their quality of work. They said Metro dispatchers because they are Emergency Medical Dispatch certified  must by law stay connected with people until ambulances arrive, which means one call could take 20 minutes.
They said their non-emergency calls can be time consuming because the callers often doctors and clinic and hospital staff members are paying customers who can't be put on hold while dispatchers answer other calls.
The consolidated E-911 dispatchers report to E-911 Commission officials, who in turn, report to the Lauderdale County Board of Supervisors.
Hitt said consolidating E-911 has been a goal since the 1980s. Because of the continuing shortage, he said Commission officials are accepting applications for dispatchers now.
Rose said E-911 has 16 dispatchers. Hitt said Commission officials hope to have a total of 18 dispatchers when they finish hiring.
Sheila Blackmon is a staff writer for The Meridian Star. E-mail her at sblackmon@themeridianstar.com.

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