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Dispatchers: Answering the Call... ALL of them!



During planning sessions around the next calendar years training schedule; pencil in a visit to your local 911 center. Dispatchers answer more calls than you can imagine and what's most surprising is the civilian or informant on the other end of the line is usually a first-time caller. I author this week's blog specifically because dispatchers rarely get the credit they deserve. Their job is unbelievably challenging, and it carries an emotional weight that usually doesn't get talked about. The phones never stop ringing and they have to get everything right all of the time. There is little to no margin for error. Additionally, PTSD affects many within our industry and we cannot forget about our telecommunications professionals - when this topic comes up. Think about the last really traumatic call you were a part of.... it may have required a peer support team to visit or even the historic critical incident stress debriefing. Regardless of how your agency handles bad calls.... do you invite the 911 center to join you? Please consider it next time as their emotional well-being is also at stake. Typically, the only closure they get is a dial tone after the call is over. Your agencies calls are filtered based on a pre-determined geography/response area. Dispatch has had to receive ALL of the calls for service.. Police/Fire/EMS/Animal Control/Emergency Management.. the list goes on.


An inside look at your local communication center and what they may want you to know:


  • Calls may not be responded to in the order they are received, most centers have a hierarchy (think of it like triage).

  • Most callers don't even know their exact location, this can be frustrating -- not all emergencies happen at home. First and foremost, get a sense of where you are!

  • Cells phones come with benefits, but so does calling from a landline phone. Cellular devices can be problematic at times.

  • Lack of closure and feelings of helplessness really take a toll on 911 call takers.

  • Just like in our world, pediatric calls can be the worst.

  • Just like in our world, they fight to receive decent wages that are commensurate with their duties/responsibilities.

  • Just like in our world, they are experiencing workforce shortages.

See the above trends... these aren't just circumstance. They face many of the same challenges we do. BURNOUT is a big deal.


Source: lcounty.com


Some new research at the University of California at Berkeley aims to slow the turnover. Teams partnered with nine U.S. cities to study a low-cost way of building camaraderie among 911 call operators. For six weeks, more than 200 dispatchers were asked to write down stories about their work experiences, as well as advice for new operators — and share those stories with each other. The experiment worked: Four months after the study, dispatchers who participated reported feeling less burned out, and the number of resignations dropped by more than half. The research was centered on behavioral nudging. It was nudging people to write and reflect on their experience and think of themselves as advice givers — which has some connotations about social status and importance. The study was also nudging them to read other people’s (colleagues) stories. A sense of belonging was tied and positively connected to better employee retention.


In summation, don't forget that even though the dispatchers are not physically on the street, they are the ones getting that first call. To put it simply, be nice, be patient, connect with them regularly and also appreciate the services they provide to their community. They are certainly an extension of us, they complement our work -- they can be our biggest advocate and ally. I know they have assisted me a time or two, and I always make a point to visit them and return the favor.


May 8, 2023

Author: Joshua Ishmael, MBA, MLS(ASCP)CM, NRP

Pass with PASS, LLC.

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