INDIANAPOLIS – A bill at the Statehouse aims to help fill jobs at 911 dispatch centers.
Senate Bill 43 would block local residency requirements for dispatchers. It passed in the Senate with almost unanimous support and was approved by a House committee earlier this week.
In Beech Grove, Mayor Dennis Buckley says he has received complaints from residents about being put on hold by 911.
“There was a delay and it was concerning to me,” he said. “Three, four, five minutes. And then I started getting some pictures from the dispatch center of longer periods of time.”
Buckley discovered it was because of staffing shortages at the Marion County dispatch center.
Michael Hubbs, who oversaw the facility for eight years before becoming executive director of Hamilton County 911 last fall, is all too familiar with the issue.
“It would fluctuate,” Hubbs said of the staffing level at the Marion County 911 dispatch center. “We would be at times five to ten short and upwards past 30 dispatchers short.”
One big barrier to hiring in Marion County: a requirement that dispatchers must also live in the county, Hubbs said.
“Qualified applicants who were told, ‘Hey, you’re going to have to relocate to Marion County unless there was a waiver,'” Hubbs said. “And when you would have that conversation with the applicant, they would say, ‘Hey, I’m really not interested,’ and move on.”
In Hamilton County, which doesn’t have a residency requirement, nearly half of the dispatch center’s staff lives elsewhere, Hubbs said.
That’s why he believes the Statehouse proposal would have a big impact.
“The reality of it is we’re short on 911 operators in a lot of different areas,” said State Sen. Jack Sandlin (R-Indianapolis), the bill’s author.
The proposal passed in the Senate with almost unanimous support and is now being considered by the House.
It’s one of several ways lawmakers are trying to address 911 staffing shortages, Sandlin said.
“We’re going to continue to look at combining 911 centers and making them more efficient and so we have a responsibility to be able to staff those,” he said.
The bill is on track to get a vote on the House floor.