PORTLAND, Oregon — The City of Portland is looking to hire 911 dispatchers, and fast. The Bureau of Emergency Communications (BOEC) says it is taking applications through August 14. They cite an increase in 911 calls and multiple staff resignations for the increased need.
“We are seeing a huge increase of calls that we never have before,” said Chelsea LaBar, a training and development analyst for BOEC. “This is an extremely fulfilling job, you're serving your community.”
LaBar said candidates must be at least 18 years old and have either a high school degree or GED. They must be able to type 40 words-per-minute with 90% accuracy, and pass a background and psychological assessment.
New hires begin with a 12-week, in-house academy during which they learn everything about being a 911 dispatcher. After that, they work with a coach while taking live calls.
“You feel excited,” said LaBar. “You feel a sense of responsibility, you feel a sense of importance ... it's kind of scary, every call is different.”
Right now, BOEC has 104 dispatchers and is aiming to increase that to at least 131. In the last two years, BOEC officials said they've lost 43 dispatchers, six of them due to internal promotions. Add to that the fact that employees will sometimes call in sick.
“Centers all across the nation are experiencing the same staffing shortages,” said LaBar. “We have growing communities and we're just not hiring enough to meet those needs.”
The shortage in dispatchers has exacerbated an ongoing shortage in Portland police officers. While the Portland Police Bureau recently celebrated the hiring of more than a dozen officers and some additional staff, the agency had hit a historic low earlier this year.
Between the two, police have frequently resorted to taking "high priority" calls only — ones that involve a risk to life safety, primarily violent crimes. Under those circumstances, non-emergency and lower priority calls do not get a response from police even if they are taken by dispatch.