PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – With the latest extreme temperatures, area emergency and non-emergency lines are seeing an increase in call volume from people seeking help. In 2021, many of those calls went unanswered as 211 was only staffed for certain hours of the day and not at all on weekends. Now, KOIN 6 wants to know what’s changed.

Emergency lines like 911 and non-emergency lines like 211 are seeing a boost in calls, and while they’re more prepared than last year, they’re still facing challenges in getting help to those in need — especially when it comes to staffing. Search around the Portland metro and you’ll see most agencies are posting hiring ads in need of 911 operators to handle every call that comes in.

“Our community is growing, which means we have an increase in calls, which means an increase in a need for staffing,” said Chelsea LaBar, a training and development analyst with Portland’s Bureau of Emergency Communications.

Portland’s BOEC is currently doubling the amount of people they’re bringing on with an extra two hiring academies to handle the extra calls. They say summer is one of their busiest times and this week’s extreme heat is a good example of why extra staff to field calls are needed.

“We get a lot of unchecked persons down, so people who may not be exhibiting obvious signs of breathing or movement or things like that, so we get a lot of those, especially in the downtown area,” said LaBar. “With this heat, we see people are calling because they’re experiencing extreme body temperature changes. It might be profuse sweating, things like that.”

Between fielding these increased calls along with other emergencies like shootings and other crimes, they’re working to keep up, but add that while they’re maintaining answering times, full response times to the scene from other first responders are not always under their jurisdiction.

“When we set up a call, we’re kind of transferring responsibility and a sense of how long it takes for them to respond, who they send and things like that,” said LaBar.

The metro’s non-emergency line 211info is also seeing a boost in calls this week — mainly for things like air conditioning and cooling center details. Through a combination of their own funds and money from the state legislature, they expanded their staffing and hours to handle the demand. 

“After heat dome last year, July 13th to be precise, we went to 24/7 operations. Prior to that, we were 8-6 Monday through Friday,” said Dan Herman, CEO of 211info. 

Right now, around 50 people are handling those non-emergency calls that come in, and while this week, they boosted staff to limit wait times, 211info says it could’ve been a different story in June.

“The last several months have been a recruiting challenge. It’s come in peaks and valleys for us,” said Herman, adding that call volume has also went down from this same time last year, helping them to quickly answer the ones that do come in.

211info is also stressing that if you need help with the heat this week and run into a wait time on the phone, you can also text your zip code to 898211 or even us the 211 app on your phone. As for emergency lines, they tell KOIN 6 they’re still able to answer calls within 10 seconds during peak hours.