Arlington 911 center responds to concerns about staffing, safety

The head of Arlington, Virginia’s Emergency Communications Center is addressing concerns that its current setup is problematic and even potentially dangerous.

“We are like every other 911 center in the country, which has traditionally struggled with staffing,” center administrator Dave Mulholland told WTOP. “We’re going to be very honest in acknowledging not every shift has optimal staffing.”

However, Mulholland maintains that crucial positions have always remained filled, and that more people are being trained to fill needed roles.

In an email, a spokesperson said that while the center is now technically at full staffing levels after a previous shortage, approximately 30% of staff are in training and cannot yet work independently.

“We’re in this period now where we’re training a bunch of new people,” Mulholland said. “I wish I could give you a good, firm answer to when those people will be trained.”

“The first contingent that we hired was last December, so we have a couple of people that are literally right on the verge of being cut loose to work independently and that will help,” he said.

At times, supervisors have had to cover lower-level positions as well. “Other than that … I am not aware of any situation where we were unable to meet the core, critical staffing level that we must have to provide the services that we provide,” Mulholland said.

Another concern is that fire dispatchers can be called on to answer 911 calls too, requiring firefighters to temporarily hold their radio traffic until the dispatcher is free again.

“It has not been a life safety issue yet, but it is certainly a model that we want to move away from,” Mulholland said, although he could not say when the shift might happen.

The center spokesperson stressed that, despite the issues, the center does well on metrics such as time to answer calls and time to dispatch.

John Aaron

John Aaron is a news anchor and reporter for WTOP. After starting his professional broadcast career as an anchor and reporter for WGET and WGTY in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, he went on to spend several years in the world of sports media, working for Comcast SportsNet, MLB Network Radio, and WTOP.

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