Have questions about Minneapolis 911? Get the facts.

Minneapolis 911 is in the midst of a multi-year hiring and training program to improve the service it provides to residents. Because these improvements are making changes to the way the center has operated in the past, there have been a number of media stories on the changes recently, and some folks may have questions about how the center does its work. Here are the facts on 911 in Minneapolis.

Q. Why is Minneapolis making changes to its 911 system?

A. Minneapolis 911 is making the same improvements to its operations that many other centers around the country have made in order to be more flexible and responsive in emergencies. There are several components to these improvements, including new hiring, a switch to a demand-based staffing model and cross-training employees to be more flexible in their work, which will help better meet callers’ needs when major emergencies occur. Minneapolis 911 began planning these changes in 2012, and implementation began in 2013.

Q. Why is Minneapolis using a new staffing model in 911?

A. Minneapolis 911 now uses a demand-based staffing model, which means that staffing is highest when call volumes are at their highest during the day, and lower when the call volume is at its lowest. This is a common-sense approach that is driven by hard data on call volumes. Staffing levels throughout the day are determined by looking closely at historical call volumes based on time of day, day of the week, and season of the year. This is a smarter use of existing staff than historic scheduling models, in which staffing is less well matched to call trends throughout the day.

Q. How many people are on duty in 911 at a given time?

A. Using demand-based staffing, the number of operators, dispatchers, and other staff vary throughout the day, to ensure that more staff are working when call volumes will be higher.

Although staffing in the center ranges throughout the day, it is never scheduled lower than nine employees on duty during the slowest times overnight, including three people who are assigned to answer phones. Other staff are also able to answer phones if activity picks up, in part because of the flexibility provided by cross-training.

Q. How quickly does Minneapolis 911 answer calls?

A. The average answer time for calls to the Minneapolis 911 center so far in 2014 is 6.1seconds, and that number is trending downward. As more employee training and cross-training is completed, the average answer time so far in March is 5.5 seconds. The national standard which most 911 centers strive to meet is to answer 90 percent of calls within 10 seconds. Currently, Minneapolis is meeting that standard at some points in the day, and not at other points. As cross-training and hiring continues, Minneapolis is pushing to meet that service goal throughout the day. One component of that is the shift to demand-based staffing, which puts more staff on the job during the busiest times, to improve responsiveness when call volumes are higher.

Q. What are the benefits of cross-training 911 employees?

A. To make the most of the workforce that’s on duty at any given time, an extensive cross-training initiative is happening now and will be complete by 2017. In the past, 911 operators and dispatchers have been two separate jobs, and once the ongoing cross-training that’s underway now is complete, all 911 staff will be able to do either job. That means when major crises happen, 911 staff will have much greater flexibility to do what needs to be done to meet the needs of callers. Minneapolis 911 has been working on this training plan for three years, working with the support of its public safety partners in the police, fire, and ambulance service. We are working hard to make sure employees are given the support and training they need to learn these additional skills. Having a more flexible workforce is also reducing the need for overtime, which typically is about five percent of the center’s budget.

Q. How does current 911 staffing compare to recent years?

A. Minneapolis 911 has increased staffing in the last two years. Although there were cuts across City government, including 911, during the recession, from 2009 to 2012, staffing remained steady, with 64 operators and dispatcher positions on staff. Through the City budget process, the 911 center was authorized to hire four additional operators and dispatchers in the last two years. At the same time, the cross-training program is underway to ensure that all operators and dispatchers can do either job by 2017, to increase flexibility and provide better service. Between new hires and filling vacancies, nineteen new employees have been hired in the 911 center since November, 2012.

Q. Why do some calls take longer than average to answer?

A. Answering calls quickly and getting help on the way to people in emergencies is Minneapolis 911’s top priority, and 911 staff assist more than half a million callers each year. As the current average answer time of 5.6 seconds demonstrates, most times, calls are answered right away. Of course, as with any call center operation, there will be surges in call volumes which may lead to a longer answer time. Many times, during a major incident, many people will be calling about the same event during a very short period of time. Dispatchers are sending help to those incidents as soon as the first call is received. Later callers reporting a particular incident may wait longer to talk to an operator, but help is already on the way. Although no 911 center has infinite capacity to talk each call immediately during a surge, the changes Minneapolis 911 is making to its staffing schedules and staff flexibility are allowing the operation to be more effective in those times.

Q. When should I call 911?

A. Call 911 any time police, fire, or ambulance need to respond. Usually this will be when someone’s life or property is in danger, or if a crime is in progress or just happened. Also call 911 to report suspicious activity that is happening now, such as suspected drug dealing, prowlers, suspicious packages, or something that just doesn’t look right.

Call 311 (612-673-3000) to report thefts, car break-ins, vandalism, animal and parking complaints, and to get information about city departments and services. 311 has online reporting capability on their website, and also has a mobile app you can download. For more information, visit: http://www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/311/index.htm

Q. What do I do if I call 911 and my call isn’t answered immediately?

A. With any 911 system, the best thing to do is to stay on the line so your call can be answered as quickly as possible. If you hang up, the 911 center will call back when an operator becomes available, but they will take incoming calls first, so the best thing to do is stay on the line. Even if you’ve called 911 by accident, please don’t hang up, but stay on the line and tell the operator you’ve made a mistake. This will save time, because the operator won’t have to take time to attempt to call you back.

Published Mar 21, 2014