9-1-1; What Is Your Emergency?

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Definition of a PSAP, Qualities of a Dispatcher

Excerpts taken from "Managing the 911 Center, A Book For Public Safety Communications Managers" 3rd Edition
Written by Eric Parry, ENP

Emergency service communications centers that perform 911 call processing are referred to as Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs). PSAPs and public safety communications centers often differ significantly from one location to another. For example, one PSAP may do only call processing, which includes emergency call answering, caller interrogation, and call transferring to a specific public safety agency. Another PSAP may support call processing and call dispatching. Or, the communications facility may be part of an agency that receives calls transferred from a PSAP, then dispatches resources to emergency situations. Smaller PSAPs do "vertical" call taking and dispatching, where the call taker and the dispatcher are the same person. Larger PSAPs do "horizontal" call taking and dispatching where a designated call taker gathers initial caller information, then horizontally transfers the information to a designated dispatcher. Whatever your operation, all public safety communications facilities share common issues and problems.

Most people have little idea what goes on inside a PSAP. Many don't understand the impact that our dispatchers can have on the outcome of an emergency call. The PSAP is the first point of influence in an emergency situation. Our dispatchers are the very first "first responders" - the ones who begin to render emergency service the moment they answer a call. The public has a stereotypical image of what happens when an emergency call is processed. Very few people understand the complex chain of events behind a single phone call. It comes as a surprise that William Shatner is not standing in the background, ensuring every call a happy and successful outcome. Even fewer understand the kind of people drawn to this profession. Here are some personality traits common to the successful public safety communications dispatcher:

Public safety communications dispatchers are vocal

It comes with the territory. A shy person, or one who is hesitant to express what is on his or her mind, rarely becomes a dispatcher. Expect dispatchers to be avid and aggressive communicators.

PSAP dispatchers are blunt

They will tell you exactly what they are feeling and sometimes what they think you should do.


People without compassion could not do this type of work. Compassion for others is what draws a person to this work. Dispatchers want to help people in need. Almost every call they take is for assistance of some kind - from someone in crisis to someone requiring directions to someone just wanting to talk.


Generosity and compassion go well together. Every call requires a dispatcher to give someting - assistance, a listening ear, an answer. They are not afraid of self-sacrifice - they do it throughout their shifts all the time.
PSAP dispatchers are fun to be around. They tend to have good senses of humor and to appreciate a good story. Some people do not understand that PSAP business can be funny, but in a stressful environment, seeing the humor in a situation can be the key to survival.
They seem to know everything, and what they do not know, they will want to know. Stop and think about this. A dispatcher's job requires a huge array of knowledge. They are asked questions by everyone who calls. They must remember details and procedures and know what to do in all types of situations.
Good dispatchers are experts at multi-tasking
Watch a good dispatcher in action. Not only is she able to monitor radio channels, talk on the phone, type information into a keyboard, and keep an eye on a computer screen, but she can also carry on a conversation with her colleagues, asking and answering questions simultaneously! This is known as multi-tasking and is an important part of this job.
Good dispatchers like to be in control
Good dispatchers are no strangers to the concept of control. It comes with the territory. This job requires a natural ability to take charge of a situation, and get things handled.

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