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Council to Vote on New 911 Call Center Backup

WithAmbulancebySimratSharma.JPG
Photo by KUT News
An ambulance pulls into St. David's Hospital

“Austin is growing.” By now this maxim has become the resounding, if not infuriating, anthem of the city. It affects various sectors of life in Austin, from transportation to housing to health. And, as it turns out, it also affects how the city of Austin runs its 911 call center.

“If something catastrophic happened, whether it’s technology or natural disaster (related) or something like that, we have to have the ability to reroute our calls,” said Darryl Jamail, the Austin Police Department’s commander of emergency communications.

On Thursday, City Council will vote on a new interlocal agreement between the city of Austin and its southern neighbor, the city of San Antonio. That agreement would make the San Antonio 911 call center Austin’s official backup center – replacing Round Rock, which, according to Jamail, has been Austin’s backup center since 2003.

“Just given the size of Round Rock’s infrastructure versus Austin’s infrastructure and the population base we support, we’ve been working for quite some time now to set up an agreement with San Antonio,” said Jamail. “They would have the ability and more capacity than the city the size of Round Rock would to be our backup.”

But Jamail stressed that the occasions requiring use of a backup call center tend to be very rare. As far as he can remember, Austin has never had to do so because of a natural disaster.

“We’ve had some very minor interruptions, which were more technology (related), if we’re changing out some systems or something like that,” said Jamail. “But usually those are planned events where we know that we have to take a system down.”

Although Austin has fought to fill all of its 911 call-taker positions in the past, Jamail said the center is always fully staffed – and the agreement with San Antonio is not intended to alleviate staffing issues. The department currently has six vacancies, but it’s in the process of training and filling five of those, said Jamail.

The agreement before Council would be a two-way arrangement: San Antonio could also turn around and use Austin as its backup call center. But according to Council documents, the agreement in practice might turn out to be more one-sided, because San Antonio has at least two backup plans (including an alternative call center in San Antonio) before the city would need to reroute its calls to Austin.

This story was produced as a part of KUT's partnership with the Austin Monitor.