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Project RETAINS: Staffing and Retention in Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs): A Supplemental Study

Commissioned by APCO International, George Mason University’s Center for Social Science Research (CSSR) conducted a study based on surveys of Emergency Communications Center (ECC) directors and employees throughout the country in order to address the chronic problems of understaffing and turnover that exist within the field of emergency communications.

Using the 2005 and 2009 research as a guide, this follow-up study addressed the following:

  • Current staffing challenges
  • Retention rates and analysis of the conditions that affect public safety telecommunicator (PST) retention.
  • Organizational commitment and psychological distress reported among PSTs.
  • Optimal workload for PSTs.
  • The number of units and/or radio channels a PST can effectively handle.
  • Use and awareness of new technologies. NEW!
  • Virtual and physical consolidation of ECCs. NEW!

Notable Findings

  • Over half of all ECCs report an increase in the number of dispatched calls.
  • Supportive supervision, co-worker support and perceived recognition were identified as key factors predicting employee commitment to their ECC.
  • Co-worker support is also an important factor in reducing psychological distress.
  • Employees are proud of their jobs and their ECCs and express interest in maintaining their employment long-term.
  • Opportunities for promotion and flexible work arrangements are valued assets for employees and pay significantly correlates with retention rates.
  • While staffing pressures were found in ECCs of all sizes, large ECCs struggle the most with staffing levels.
  • ECCs will likely have difficulty in recruiting millennials for two primary reasons:
    • Millennials desire work that encourages a work/life balance.
    • Millennials mistrust social institutions, especially government.
  • Average retention rate of 71 percent indicates turnover has grown as a problem for ECCs.
  • Text-to-9-1-1 calls are rare occurrences, constituting less than two percent of call volume in most ECCs with this capability.
  • Familiarity with technology varies widely by type and ECC size, with directors at large ECCs being the most familiar.
  • While the majority of employees are enthusiastic about learning new technologies, less than half feel their ECCs are providing adequate training for these technologies.
  • Most ECCs surveyed do not intend to upgrade their Customer Premise Equipment (CPE) or Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) systems.

The full report is available to APCO Members and to those who purchase the RETAINS Toolkit 3.0.

Download the entire report

Subscriptions to the RETAINS Toolkit 3.0 can be purchased online.

For questions regarding the toolkit, please email