I want to extend my deepest sympathies to the family of Raymond Callihan, who as I understand, is preparing to say good-bye to a husband and father. This family’s heartbreak was shared on the news Wednesday night.
My heart aches for them.
We know that the stakes involved in emergency response are high, and that we are often dealing with life and death situations. Please know that we are carefully reviewing this situation so that we can learn from it and improve.
I was first asked about the 911 program two weeks ago, when a reporter reached out to me about concerns she was hearing from 911 employees. At that time, the 911 operators and dispatchers were in the midst of an election to decide which union they wanted to represent them. Because of that union vote, the Bureau of Mediation Services had placed a “status quo order” on the city of Minneapolis. That meant that no one at the City — 911 management or elected officials — was allowed to talk publicly about training, systems or any other issues that they would discuss with a union. Orders like this are standard, and are meant to ensure that management cannot influence the outcome of a union vote. We respect these orders and respect our employees’ right to bargain collectively and choose a union to represent them.
Now, the union election is over and the status quo order has been lifted. What I couldn’t say then, I’ll say now.
Minneapolis 911 is in the process of adopting a new, common-sense staffing model, following best practices that have been put in place in many 911 centers around the country. In addition to hiring and training more staff, 911 operators and dispatchers are learning new skills that will help our center be even more flexible and effective in responding to emergencies.
Until now, operators and dispatchers were two separate jobs within Minneapolis 911: operators only took calls, while dispatchers have always been cross-trained both to take calls and dispatch them. Under our new staffing model, operators and dispatchers are being trained to do both jobs. This change will improve public safety because it will allow staff to do whatever job is needed most as emergency situations arise. It also reduces the need for overtime.
Another benefit to this new model is that it bases staffing levels on demand. We have much historical data that tell us the times of day that our call volume is highest and lowest, yet for decades, our staffing was not closely aligned with these historical activity levels. Now, we’ve changed that old practice so that during our busiest times, upwards of 16 employees can be on duty. With the new system, we are better able to balance staffing needs with call volumes and spread the workload more evenly across all shifts. And we have even more flexibility to respond to public-safety needs because operators and dispatchers are now cross-trained to do each other’s jobs.
The City of Minneapolis has been working on developing and implementing this model for three years, with the full support of our public-safety partners in the Police and Fire departments, and the Hennepin County ambulance service. They are part of 911’s advisory board, where we have discussed and refined these reforms over the last three years with full input from all partners. Both Police Chief Janeé Harteau and Fire Chief John Fruetel believe that 911 provides an essential and reliable service, and they support these reforms.
We continue to monitor the results of this new program, and in 2014, our average answer time for 911 calls is 7.75 seconds. But as common-sense as this new staffing model is, change is difficult for some people.
I have always taken an interest in ensuring our 911 operations are striving to the very best standards, both as a council member and now as the Mayor. As a City Council member, I fought to get more funding added to the 911 Center budget, which allowed management to hire two additional staff in 2013 and another two in 2014. I have also done an extensive tour of 911 – once before the 35-W bridge collapse and once again since then. I also spent time in the 911 center during the bridge collapse, one of the most tragic moments for our City. I saw firsthand the dedication of the employees and management who do such important work.
The job of 911 employees and management — and all of us at City Hall — is to help keep our city safe by providing the very best service to people in Minneapolis in the most effective way possible. We are committed to it and will continue to improve upon it.
My thoughts and prayers continue to be with the family and friends of Raymond Callihan at this very difficult moment for them. Their loss is a loss for all of us and for all of Minneapolis.