911 emergency calls will be routed to other areas
The Washington State Patrol (WSP) is closing its Wenatchee dispatch center at the end of June and will instead handle all those calls through its centers in Spokane, Yakima and Marysville.
The WSP made the decision because the Wenatchee center had been operating with about a 50% vacancy rate for several years and has been unable to fill the positions, WSP Director of Communications Chris Loftis said.
WSP has managed by using overtime and by having some calls handled by Spokane. But that arrangement was no longer sustainable, because it was overburdening people in what are already high-pressure jobs, Loftis said. Loftis called it a “difficult, but correct, decision” that’s in the best interest of the public.
Calls to 911 are automatically routed to the appropriate dispatch center and the change won’t have any impact on response time, Loftis said. First responders know their area and don’t rely on dispatchers to provide directions or landmarks.
The dispatchers handle calls not only for the WSP, but also for eight other first-responder agencies, Loftis said.
Closing the center was a difficult decision, particularly for current staff, who had to choose between relocating and losing their job, Loftis said. Three have elected to stay with the agency and relocate.
Rigorous hiring process
The Wenatchee dispatch center has 16 full-time positions and one part-time spot, including dispatchers and managers. There are eight vacancies, seven of whom answer phones, Loftis said.
The application process is rigorous and even some candidates who are hired don’t make it through the necessary training. Dispatchers work 24/7 and have to be accurate and professional every time, and the nature of the work means it can have life-or-death repercussions, Loftis said.
WSP has been recruiting for positions in Wenatchee for three years but has been having trouble filling them. Other dispatch centers around the state are fully staffed, Loftis said.
WSP had 121 applicants for jobs in Wenatchee in 2019, 106 in 2020, and 96 in 2021. They hired two people in 2019 but none in 2020. The two WSP hired in 2021 didn’t successfully complete the training, he said.
The Wenatchee center has seen considerable attrition over the years. It lost two employees in 2019 (but replaced them) and one in 2020, but the biggest impact came in 2021, when the center lost six workers. Some of the 2021 resignations were connected with the state COVID vaccine mandate, when the WSP lost 129 people statewide. Loftis couldn’t say how many of those people worked for the dispatch center, but he said it was not the primary reason for the closure.
“It’s a factor, but not the primary factor — these are just tough times,” Loftis said.