A crucial van service in Anchorage’s public safety system is short-staffed, straining city fire and police

Anchorage’s municipal government has withheld five months of payments from the security contractor charged with caring for intoxicated people found on city streets, amid what officials describe as a precipitous drop in service that’s upping demands on firefighters and police.

Securitas, the multinational, multibillion-dollar private security firm that the city pays to run the Anchorage Safety Patrol, or ASP, has been unable to fully staff the service amid a nationwide shortage of emergency medical technicians, company officials said last month.

Under its contract, the Anchorage Health Department pays Securitas up to $2 million a year to operate a 24-hour van pickup service, which responds to roughly 1,000 calls each month. Securitas also staffs the city’s sleep-off center, where the vans drop off intoxicated people to recover.

Firefighters have already responded to 3,600 calls since January that could be handled by ASP, according to fire department data. That number was 3,000 for all of last year.

The van service has been off the road at least 25% of the time since April, according to the fire department data. That appears to be fueling thousands of extra calls for city police and firefighters, who cover for ASP when it’s not on duty, according to Alex Boyd, an assistant Anchorage fire chief.

“We built a system where ASP is a critical and invaluable component,” Boyd said in a phone interview.

The fire department appreciates the efforts from city health officials to get ASP back to full service, Boyd added.


“But if we can’t get it back, then we need a service that is equivalent and built to do that work,” he said.

The ASP problems do not appear to be directly affecting response times to reports of intoxicated people, as the police and firefighters dispatched instead can often arrive more quickly than the van service.

But the calls tie up those police and firefighters, meaning that response times to other emergencies in the same area can take longer as dispatchers send vehicles from other parts of town, Boyd said.

It’s also far more expensive to send firefighters in an engine or ambulance than it is to send Securitas’ responders under a pre-existing contract to care for an intoxicated person, he added. An average ambulance call costs $2,800 — and instead of going to the sleep-off center, ambulances are only authorized to take patients to a hospital emergency room, further straining Anchorage’s health care system, Boyd said.

City health officials said they’ve been meeting weekly with Securitas leadership, and they’ve created a notification system to alert other city agencies when the van service is shut down. Addressing Securitas’ staffing problems is “definitely a priority,” said Michelle Fehribach, a health department spokesperson.

“Everyone is trying to work more cohesively to make sure that if the service is offline, everybody who should be aware is aware,” she said. “The staffing issues, I think, are just tough.”

Securitas’ Alaska district manager, Doug Stewart, declined to comment and said he’d referred questions to other officials at the company. Emails and phone calls to Securitas’ American media contact went unanswered.

Stewart addressed the city Assembly’s Health Policy Committee in-person at a meeting in early May, when he said an EMT shortage had “hit us strongly” and forced Securitas to “pull the vans from service.” By the time of that meeting, he added, vans were back to running the contracted 24 hours a day, but at a June 7 meeting, health department officials referenced a “staffing shortage” after a few Securitas employees went on military leave.

“They are working hard on trying to get their van service as contractually obligated,” Kim Rash, the city health director, said at the June meeting. “We are meeting with them weekly, trying to get them back on track, and we are very hopeful that we can get there very soon.”

The health department is withholding payment on all of Securitas’ invoices from this year, “while we sort through and make sure that the municipality is only paying for what services were rendered,” Fehribach, the department spokesperson, said in a phone interview.

ASP works primarily in the downtown, Midtown, Fairview and Mountain View neighborhoods of Anchorage, and the job is undeniably grueling.

Patients are “often dependent on substances, have mental health issues (and) medical issues and are predominantly homeless,” according to the scope of work in the city’s contract with Securitas.

“Staff continuously encounter challenging situations and are exposed to illness, clients that are verbally abusive towards staff, mentally and emotionally unstable clients, bloodborne pathogens and infectious diseases, noxious odors and substances,” the contract says.

The contract requires four van shifts over each 24-hour period, with at least one EMT and one driver per van. It also calls for at least three employees at the sleep-off center, with a client-to-staff ratio capped at 15-to-1.

In an organizational chart provided to the city, Securitas said it would pay its EMTs between $20 and $22 an hour, and its drivers and intake workers at the sleep-off center would earn between $18 and $20 an hour. That appears to be competitive with other Anchorage driver and EMT job postings.

Securitas employees with one to four years of service with the company receive one week of paid time off each year, according to information that Securitas provided to the city.

At the May health policy committee meeting, Stewart, the Securitas district manager, said the company had gone the “extra mile” of hiring an EMT instructor, and was set to graduate its first class of four technicians that month.


“Since we’d tried recruiting at different levels and (there was) lots of competition out there for EMTs, and lots of pay rates and higher pay rates, we decided to go in-house on it,” he said. “It’s worked very well for us.”

The two Assembly members representing ASP’s core service area, however, both said they’re still getting many complaints about public intoxication and public safety.

“I frequently hear, particularly from downtown business owners, that they call and they wait a long time for a response — or sometimes don’t get an emergency response,” said Daniel Volland, who represents the downtown area on the Assembly and co-chairs the health policy committee. “I think that there’s some growing frustration with that.”

The other downtown Assembly member, Chris Constant, said he’s been hearing from city firefighters who are being sent on calls that ASP would typically handle. But the problems Securitas is experiencing, he added, are “just like every other part of this economy.”

“Everybody’s continuing to experience the same issues related to the Great Resignation and keeping people on the job,” Constant said. “The money we were paying a year or two years ago with that contract clearly doesn’t meet the goal.”

Originally published in Northern Journal, a newsletter published by Nathaniel Herz. Subscribe here. Distributed by Alaska Beacon.