While emergency call centers throughout the country face staffing shortages, Williamson County Emergency Communications has made a concerted effort to fill vacancies in recent years, department heads said during a Williamson County Commissioners Court meeting Feb. 7.

Chris Connealy, senior director of emergency services, said the No. 1 challenge facing dispatchers in the U.S., including in Williamson County, is filling empty positions. However, the department has filled all but five of its vacancies—the lowest number of empty roles since Connealy joined the county nearly five years ago.

“As of 2022, our dispatchers are the highest paid in the state,” Connealy said. “Even with that, that didn’t fix all of our challenges.”

Connealy said the “organizational culture” within the department was previously “not healthy.” He said the staff at EC have worked to improve the culture and reputation of the department, and after interviewing job candidates this month, he hopes to have no vacancies in the department.

“We’re a complex operation,” he said. “We dispatch 38 different agencies. Certainly [during] the ice storm, we got all types of entities that we’re interacting with on an emergency basis. So we need to have people on top of their game. We don’t hire people just to put someone in a chair. They have to meet the qualifications, and equally, they have to fit well in our culture.”

EC has a total of 60 dispatchers, who answer 911 calls. The annual starting salary for telecommunications officers is $57,291.

The department also saw a change in leadership Feb. 5. Kate Wolf, former professional standards division manager, took over the director position, replacing Thomas Piche, who took a new job with the county’s Wireless Communications department.