A year ago, a small electrical fire temporarily closed Columbia's Joint Communications and a year later officials say there are measures in place to prevent a disruption in calls. The problem, however, remains having someone to answer those calls. "Well, we've had some disruption in service, but it wasn't caused because of power outages," Joint Communications Interim Director Joe Piper said. He says the 911 Center has contingencies in place to keep everything up and running, even when power runs out. "We have an emergency power back up generator," Piper said. "We also test it once a week. we test it for an hour, and it's tested under load." According to Piper, the generator is capable of supplying energy to the call center for nearly a month's time, but before that kicks on, an uninterrupted power supply, or UPS, does first. "The time between when commercial power is lost and the generator comes on, it fills that gap so your computer system, your electrical system, doesn't really know that there's a power outage." But residents know there is a problem when they call 911 and don't get an answer. ABC 17 News has reported for months that Joint Communications is woefully understaffed. ABC 17 News found out it takes five bodies to maintain one position in the call center 24 hours a day, seven days a week. There are currently less than 25 employees, including supervisors. Between emergency dispatch, and non-emergency calls, sometimes there is only one operator answering phones for all 160,000 Boone County residents. Back in June, a Joint Communications report shows staff there aim to answer 911 calls within four rings, but some callers end up waiting more than three minutes.
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