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Richmond 911 graduating largest number of new emergency communications officers in seven years

Public safety staffing, including 911, was especially hard hit nationwide by the COVID-19 pandemic and the consequences of civil unrest in 2020 and has yet to completely recover.

Trevor Dickerson

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The largest number of new Richmond 911 staffers in more than seven years will graduate from training this week. Thirteen new emergency communications officers will complete the Basic Dispatch Academy on Jan. 24.

The large number of graduates for the Richmond Department of Emergency Communications, Preparedness, and Response is especially remarkable, given the current employment situation. The unemployment rate in Virginia is just 3 percent, lower than the national average of 3.5 percent, as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics for seasonally adjusted rates in December 2022.

“We are very happy to be adding these 13 valuable, trained staff members to our 911 call-taking and dispatching team. They will help to ensure that we are continuing to deliver excellent emergency services to Richmond while helping to relieve the stress and burden of mandatory overtime on our current staff,” said Stephen Willoughby, director of the department and coordinator of emergency management for the City of Richmond. “They are the result of a lot of hard work and perseverance from many in our department and the city to find ways to face and continue to overcome these staffing challenges.”

Public safety staffing, including 911, was especially hard hit nationwide by the COVID-19 pandemic and the consequences of civil unrest in 2020 and has yet to completely recover. A national organization, the National Emergency Number Association (NENA), describes it as a “911 staffing crisis,” which has affected Richmond as well.

The city of Richmond and the Department of Emergency Communications, Preparedness, and Response has been working to alleviate the staffing challenges through salary increases, increased recruiting, accelerated training, and technology, such as remote call-taking and systems to help reduce the number of incoming calls.

Salaries for emergency communications officers were increased by 15 percent, effective with the Dec. 3 pay period. The starting salary for emergency communications officers without experience is $22.78 per hour with full City of Richmond benefits.

The Basic Dispatch Academy, the required training for all new 911 staff, has been put on an accelerated schedule, with four planned per calendar year.

The 13 new emergency communications officers who graduate on Jan. 24 will join 56.5 others out of a total authorized number of 85. The next academy is scheduled to begin on April 10, and students for that academy are in various stages of background checks and other preliminary screenings. The application period for the following academy, to begin in July is expected to open next week. More information is here: https://www.rva.gov/911/employment

The Department of Emergency Communications, Preparedness, and Response has continued to provide excellent service and meet or exceed national standards. It received its initial national Public Safety Communications accreditation on May 4, 2019, from the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, Inc., and has maintained its accreditation. It is one of only 2 percent of emergency communications centers nationwide that achieve this accreditation. It is also one of the busiest emergency communications centers in the Commonwealth of Virginia. In 2022, it dispatched 298,665 calls for service, a large number for a community of Richmond’s size.

The department is asking for the public’s help:

  • Call 911 only for an immediate need for police, fire, and emergency medical services. For issues that are NOT a life- or property-threatening emergencies, call the public safety non-emergency number, 804-646-5100. For other city services, call 311, visit rva311.com or use the RVA311 app. Non-emergency calls to 911 tie up call-takers from answering other 911 calls that are life-threatening emergencies.
  • Remember that every call is answered in the order that it is received. Do not hang up, once 911 has been dialed. If your phone dials 911 by accident, stay on the line and explain to the call-taker that no help is needed.
  • Callers might get a recording if more calls are coming in while call-takers are handling other calls. If so, callers should stay on the line. Your call will be answered in the order it was received as quickly as possible, usually within seconds. Please do not hang up in an attempt to call back, which will delay the response.

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Trevor Dickerson is the Editor and Co-Founder of RVAHub.