Newport News facing dispatcher shortage

Posted at 11:14 PM, Mar 14, 2019

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. - If you call 911 in Newport News, you may get put on hold if it isn't an immediate emergency.

The city doesn’t have nearly enough dispatchers to answer emergency calls, and they’re desperately looking to hire more people.

Dispatchers are the first responders people don’t see. They answer 911 calls and tell police officers, firefighters and medics where emergencies are around the city.

The Newport News dispatch center has 57 employees when it’s fully staffed, and they’re down to 35 employees— that’s only 60 percent of the employees the city needs to help the community in emergency situations.

Related: Norfolk aims to get teenagers involved in emergency preparedness

The shortage has continued for around six months now. Dispatchers say the demands of the job have made it difficult to retain employees. Those who are left are overworked, and the community pays the price.

“The phone— they can be back to back non-stop. If we don’t have the staff to answer the calls, they’re just going to keep ringing,” says dispatcher Tiffany Wayland.

The city says calls never go unanswered and hang-ups always receive call backs.

“If we have less call-takers it’s putting a strain on the people we do have. We’re having to answer more phone calls,” says Wayland.

That means longer wait times for callers and longer days for dispatchers who have to work overtime to fill in the gaps.

Newport News is looking for people who can multitask and are calm under pressure. Dispatchers say it’s the perfect job for anyone who wants a career helping others.

Related: Fire departments across Hampton Roads experiencing shortage of volunteer firefighters

“I really feel fulfilled leaving here knowing that I have done something for my community. I’m born and raised in Newport News, so it feels great to give back to a city I grew up in,” said dispatcher Evan Augustus.

Starting pay for a certified dispatcher in Newport News is around $35,000 a year. Applicants do not need a college degree.

Anyone interested in applying can click here to find the posted jobs on the city's website, apply for the call "taker position," and contact the dispatch center after applying.

Lakesha Holliday is a dispatcher and encourages anyone who is unsure if they’re qualified to apply.

“We’ll give you everything that you need to do your job,” explained Holliday. You can actually come out and spend a shift with us - a full shift - and you can see what we do,” she says.