Oakland leaders on Monday announced $2.5 million in funding to improve the city’s beleaguered 911 emergency dispatch system.

Mayor Sheng Thao held a news conference to discuss the two-year funding plan.

“Response times have been a long-standing issue for our city, and the current situation is unacceptable,” Thao said in a news release.

In June, an Alameda County Civil Grand Jury report warned that Oakland’s 911 system was underperforming.

The report found that aging technology and staffing shortages, among other things, have led to a situation where calls to the city’s Emergency Communications Center are still not answered in a timely manner, despite a Grand Jury report identifying similar issues three years ago.

“Response times have been a long-standing issue for our city, and the current situation is unacceptable.”

Mayor Sheng Thao

That report found existing staff could not competently handle the 700,000-plus emergency calls the ECC received in 2019 and that dispatchers were unable to meet state standards that say 90 percent of calls should be answered by a live person within 15 seconds and 95 percent should be answered within 20 seconds.

The report also said that the city had no call-answering policy or standard to ensure compliance, that Oakland’s hiring process was too slow and that hiring operators and dispatchers was not seen as a priority.

“While we are currently working on our responses to the Grand Jury report on 911, we are proposing today that these additional funds be used to implement the recommendations of that report and our next steps in improving the system,” Thao said.

The $2.5 million for system improvements is coming from the Oakland-Alameda Coliseum Joint Powers Authority.

City officials said the Oakland Police Department is working to recruit 16 new dispatchers and to update its computer-aided dispatch system that helps connect emergency responders to the scene of a call.

In addition to staffing shortages and technological issues, a power outage in East Oakland caused the city’s 911 system to crash for about 10 minutes in early July.

Thao was joined Monday by City Councilmembers Carroll Fife, Kevin Jenkins, Rebecca Kaplan and Nikki Fortunato Bas, as well as City Administrator Jestin Johnson.

Kiley Russell writes primarily for Local News Matters on issues related to equity and the environment. A Bay Area native, he has lived most of his life in Oakland. He studied journalism at San Francisco State University, worked for the Associated Press and the former Contra Costa Times, among other outlets. He has covered everything from state legislatures, local governments, federal and state courts, crime, growth and development, political campaigns of various stripes, wildfires and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.