COLORADO SPRINGS — 911 dispatchers can be the life-saving connection between law enforcement, fire crews, and medical services to a person in need. But a nationwide shortage of 911 dispatchers is complicating that connection – and it’s happening in Southern Colorado, too.

Both Colorado Springs and Pueblo Dispatch say there are not enough people applying or willing to do the job. Atnd he pandemic made recruiting more difficult with as more people ask to work from home.

“I’ve been doing this for 25 years and we’ve never been fully staffed, so it’s not a new problem. But I will say that I think COVID has changed a bit of the workforce and kind of intensified the shortages,” Colorado Springs Public Safety Communications Manager Renee Henshaw said.

Right now, Colorado Springs has 20 openings and Pueblo has nine. They also have more than a handful of employees in training.

“And yeah, once in a while, my dispatch, the training coordinator, will have to work to cover some shortages. I’ve had to at times, but that’s not unique to Pueblo, unfortunately,” Pueblo Police Department Dispatch Manager Kim Jeffries said.

The national standard for 911 calls is to be answered in 15 seconds or less. For Pueblo, in the last six months, they’re averaging 11 seconds. In Colorado Springs, last month’s average was 34 seconds.

“Where we have that set right now is a balance of what we should have – with balancing with the actual employees what we do have,” Henshaw added. “It’s not actually where it should be, and where we’re operating probably at about 50% of where we should be. So our minimum staffing on a swing shift is seven call takers. We should probably have 13 to 14 to be able to start meeting those types of numbers.”

To see the latest 911 stats for Teller County, El Paso County, Colorado Springs, Cripple Creek, Woodland Park, Fort Carson, and Peterson Air Force Base click here.

Colorado Springs dispatchers say they try and get to the 911 calls first and will put the non-emergency calls on hold.

Henshaw said she is constantly speaking with city council members and the mayor about the need for more 911 dispatchers. In 2020, call volumes went down but they’re steadily going back up. In the first six months of 2022, Pueblo answered 48,000 calls to 911.

“But trying to get people to realize when it’s appropriate to call 911,” Henshaw said. “There’s constant abuse of the system.”

These dispatchers want to remind folks that a 911 call is an emergency measure you should take to save a life, report a crime, or fire. They urge people to call the non-emergency line to clarify the law, make parking complaints, or get information.

Retention is another obstacle these communication centers are facing.

“It’s a stressful job, and it takes a lot of multitasking and patience that some people just either aren’t able to accomplish in a short period of time or decide that it’s not for them,” Jeffries explained.

“It’s really about finding the people that get a sense of satisfaction from what they give back, that sense of service to your community,” Henshaw said.

If you would like to apply to be trained and work as a 911 dispatcher in Pueblo you can check out the link here. If you would like to apply to Colorado Springs, you can do so here.