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CHARLESTON COUNTY, SC (WCBD) – The Charleston County Consolidated 9-1-1 Call Center says it faces significant staffing challenges while ensuring service to residents does not decrease. County officials say the number of call center openings continues to rise due to burnout.

Officials say the county’s call center currently has 43 openings, leaving the center with about 70 people to do work normally intended for 120 employees. The county says it is working aggressively to fill short-term and long-term holes.

“No, it’s a huge shortfall for us and it’s the biggest we’ve seen,” said Jim Lake, director of the county’s 9-1-1 Consolidated Call Center.

With more openings than ever before, the center is forced to operate at 58% of normal employee capacity. Although understaffed, employees are tasked with answering and dispatching hundreds of calls for help each day.

“It created a dent, so to speak, in our staffing,” Lake says. “They’re doing hundreds of extra overtime hours, some of which are forced overtime because we have no choice.”

To fill the gaps, many current employees have been forced to work extensive overtime. Since July 2021, the county has spent $1.3 million on overtime alone. Lake says overtime is taking its toll.

“We lose people because we burn them out because we work them so hard to fill the vacancies that we have,” says Lake.

Despite the growing number of call center openings, Charleston County says it was able to maintain its accreditation for the call center while avoiding service impacts.

“These hard workers answering the phones are doing a quality job at what they do, we’re still just below the national standard,” Lake said.

To find a long-term solution, the county is working with local high schools to hire students to start in training positions in hopes of finding a full-time employee upon graduation. The county is also recruiting heavily on social media and at job fairs.

For Lake, he says he will lean on the employees he has while working to fill in the gaps.

“The people we still have who are dedicated employees,” says Lake. “We couldn’t do it without them.”

The Mount Pleasant and North Charleston Police Departments say they have not been affected by staffing issues. The Charleston City Police Department said it was working with the call center and had started using a computer to transfer non-emergency calls directly to officers to avoid jamming phone lines.