The Other End of the 9-1-1 line...........

dispatcherI can’t think of many nobler, under-recognized professions than that of a 9-1-1 Police/Fire/EMS Dispatcher. These men and women are responsible for our nation’s homeland security, the safety, and well-being of our citizens on a daily basis. If you ever had a chance to listen to 9-1-1 telephone conversations and police radio traffic, you would be amazed at the professionalism, dedication, and expertise of the public safety dispatchers, who are really at the core of any call for help. Unfortunately, reality shows like COPS and the plethora of police oriented dramas usually don’t include the dispatchers in their segments.

Dispatchers connect with the voices of terrified victims, angry citizens, and those who are just seeking advice on how to handle basic life skills. The dispatcher is the calming, reassuring voice in the middle of the night that provides hope, sanity, safety, and a sense of reason. Public safety dispatchers interact with the front line emergency services personnel promptly, clearly, and calmly, no matter what is happening on the other end of the radio. They are depended upon to keep you, your family, friends, and neighbors calm and assured in any emergency. They are counted upon to provide guidance and support in our most frantic and panicked moments, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. What an awesome and unbelievable responsibility!

When someone dials 9-1-1, it can be a matter of life and death. It is more often than not a misdial, but the dispatcher has no way of knowing what is happening on the other end of the line when the phone rings. Some callers can get very emotional and want to tell the dispatchers their whole life story that brought them to their current crisis. Since time is crucial to an effective response to critical incidents, Dispatchers are trained to quickly take charge of the call, knowing what information the officers, firefighters, and medical units need in responding to an emergency. The dispatchers have to ask the caller specific questions to obtain critical information, such as the exact address or location of an incident and if there is anyone hurt needing medical attention. The dispatcher quickly decides the priority of the incident, determines the closest, correct kind and number of units needed to be sent to the scene, calmly providing all that information to the officers without error the first time and every time.

It's very important for dispatchers to remain calm, confident, and poised while dealing with officers who may be frightened or feeling panic in emergency situations such as having been shot or are involved in a fight for their life. Think about some of the horrific and tragic officer involved shooting deaths that have occurred in the news recently and you will no doubt forget it was a dispatcher who answered the calls for help. The dispatchers are the officer’s lifeline to other emergency services. They are the people that provide the officers with the information which frequently allows an officer to place a suspect under arrest, or ties that suspect in with several other outstanding cases.

What the public does not see is all the work that goes on behind the scene of any incident. Take for example a basic domestic violence call. In many cases the dispatcher keeps the caller on the line after dispatching officers to the scene, obtaining information about the location and nature of any injuries, how the injuries happened, what sparked the event, the level of violence being used, the kind and amounts of drugs or alcohol consumed, the kind and location of any weapons in the house, information about previous incidents of violence that have not been reported, where the suspect is now, and many other pieces of information that the officer can use in the future prosecution of the case.

At the same time, the dispatcher is checking local, state, and national records for previous contacts with all the involved parties, including weapons which might be registered to them, criminal history, or vehicles that are registered to them. The dispatcher shifts through sometimes an unbelievable amount of information seeking a match on one small piece of data like a birth date or record identification number to connect the dots that will paint the criminal portrait of an individual. Frequently this is all done before officers even arrive on the scene. During all of this activity, other officers could be handing other incidents calling on the radio, or be making traffic stops, other phone lines could be ringing, and all these activities also need the dispatcher’s attention.

This is just the tip of the iceberg that any incident can evolve into. People's lives are on the line in many instances, and dispatchers need to respond immediately and think fast on their feet. Dispatchers prioritize events, and deal with the most urgent calls first, without forgetting the less urgent calls. Not only does every call bring a unique situation, but one call's event can change quickly and dramatically, going from an officer advising that everything is OK and no additional assistance is needed to an Officer needs help urgently from other agencies. Many different things are occurring simultaneously that the dispatcher must keep track of, and at any time an emergency call will require their full and immediate attention and quick response.

So, who answers when you call 9-1-1? It is your son, daughter, mother, father, even the guy next door who arrives home as you are leaving for work. The person on the other end of the line is a highly trained professional, who is passionate about their work. They are articulate, insightful into the ills of society, discerning, intelligent, intuitive, confident, brave, mature, dedicated men and women, who are on the front lines of public safety.

Please take a moment to acknowledge the dedication and service these public safety heroes provide to your community. Send them an email, drop off a thank you card, or call up on the business line of your local agency (Please, Not 9-1-1) and express your thanks. They don’t often hear it, but sure love it when they do!

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