SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) – San Francisco’s 911 center is facing extreme staffing issues as yet another big storm is expected next week. In a series of tweets, the executive director of the Department of Emergency Management said Tuesday that 911 calls were 400 percent over normal call volume. The concern now is meeting the demand but also trying to fill the many open positions.

Mary Ellen Carroll, the author of the tweets, tells us this is not a new problem but Tuesday’s storm amplified their staffing issues. She says the department has been working to recruit dispatchers, but it’s a problem that cannot be solved immediately.

This week’s wild weather sent people into a panic as San Francisco’s emergency phone lines saw a major surge in calls. Carroll says their dispatch center was fully staffed on Tuesday, but the deluge exposed a chronic problem.

“The 911 center in San Francisco is having a very extreme staffing crisis,” she said.

Carroll says understaffing at the city’s 911 center is a daily issue. She believes that despite the low staffing numbers, the 911 center has been evenly divided between solid and below-average performance. 

But with a 400% surge in calls on Tuesday, Carroll says no emergency department in the country could have handled the situation differently. She also says many of the calls should have gone to 311 instead of 911.

“For downed trees, for power outages, those two things that happened quite a bit. We really ask people to use 311,” she said.

As for filling the open positions, it’s been a tall order. Carroll says the vacancies have come from a combination of the COVID-19 pandemic, a hiring freeze, and vaccine compliance. Qualified applicants have also been hard to recruit, and state law requires extensive dispatch training.

KRON ON is streaming news live now

The recruitment issues are a shared problem with other city departments, such as SFPD. Carroll says her department is working hard to fill the openings while finding ways to be more flexible with hiring. It’s not something that will be solved overnight.

“We are putting all the resources that we can bring to bear to solve this issue,” she said. 

As for next week’s storm, Carroll says the Department of Emergency Management will have its emergency operations center activated. And she stresses people to use 311 for non-life safety emergencies.