9-1-1; What Is Your Emergency?

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Three and Me

Author Unknown

I am the Police Officer, follow me,
Preserving the peace is where I'll be.
I am the torch that lights the way,
In darkness my courage will never sway.
Leading the others, that is me.
I am the Police Officer, guiding the three.

I am the Firefighter, follow me,
Into the flames is where I'll be.
I am the one who battles the beast,
To protect that on which it would feast.
Lending strength to the others, that is me.
I am the Firefighter, supporting the three.

I am the Medic, follow me,
Easing the pain is where I'll be.
I am the one who helps them survive,
Lifting the fallen to keep them alive.
Treating the others, that is me.
I am the Medic, healing the three.

I am the Dispatcher, don't follow me,
Agony and chaos is where I'll be.
Working in obscurity, this forgotten place,
Not death but insanity is the danger I face.
Answering the call, that is me.
I am the Dispatcher, protecting the three.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

7 Deadly Mistakes: Knowing What Can Go Wrong Can Help Telecommunicators Prevent Negative Outcomes

Taken from Public Safety Communications Magazine, April 2010
Written by Lori A. Vangilder, adjunct instructor with APCO Institute. She retired after 22 years with the Lake Mary (FL) Police Department and is a past president of Florida Chapter APCO.

"911 saves lives." We've heard this statement since we were children. We learned how to dial it, and we taught it to our children. But it's not until you become a telecommunicator that you appreciate the human factor involved in saving lives.

Every day, a phenomenal amount of work is accomplished by public safety telecommunicators who work at the highest level of our cognitive process. Without conscious effort, we take in new information, reframe it and compare it with previous experiences. Then, our brains access that information and, bam!, we've done something so complex that we sometimes amaze ourselves.

In 2006, more than 240 million 911 calls were made in the U.S. Millions of times each year, responders are dispatched, everything goes right and lives are saved. But occasionally, something goes wrong. At times, our problem-solving and decision-making skills aren't used as effectively and as efficiently as they should be. The result is errors, and because our profession is public safety communications, those errors are magnified, scrutinized and publicized as deadly mistakes.

It's up to us -- as comm center directors, supervisors and telecommunicators -- to identify the many different situations that can create deadly errors and take steps to prevent negative outcomes -- a life-saving proposition. Below, seven mistakes to avoid.

1. Miskeying & Misunderstanding Locations

Location, location, location. We are taught from Day 1 that acquiring the accurate location of an incident is the most important part of the job. With an accurate location, we have somewhere to send responders. But the simplest task creates the largest room for error.

In most comm centers, when a call is received the information is immediately typed (keyed) into a CAD system. In larger centers, a telecommunicator may handle hundreds of calls per shift. No matter how big or small the center, there's the potential for human error every time an incident is entered into the CAD. Keying in the wrong house number or street name will cause responders to be dispatched to the wrong location.

Most comm centers require a minimum typing speed (e.g., 40 words per minute) as a prerequisite for employment. But must typing tests are given in a vacuum, with no distractions for the one taking the test, so accuracy isn't measured under realistic conditions. Factor in the physical toll of an eight-, 10- or 12-hour shift, the need to simultaneously listen to a distraught caller who may or may not speak English fluently, pass the call along to a dispatcher or dispatch the call themselves, listen for and answer other lines, and it's easy to see how a telecommunicator could miskey an address or misunderstand a street name.

Dispatching field units to a wrong location for a traffic crash could escalate a traffic crash with injuries to a traffic homicide investigation if someone dies because EMS was delayed. Consider the consequences of dispatching a fire department to the wrong street address of a fully involved structure fire in which people are trapped. Any way you look at it, it spells liability.

Tip: Telecommunicators can decrease the risk of a potentially deadly error by developing the positive habit of ending each call by repeating the location to the caller to ensure accuracy. If a street name is similar to another street name, duplicated in a nearby city or just plain confusing, spell it out. Example: "Mrs. Smith, units will be dispatched to 120 C-H-O-C-K-T-A-W Street in the Briar Community to meet with you regarding the burglary of your residence." This gives the caller one last chance to correct you and ensures that units are dispatched to the correct location.

Because typing speeds and keyboarding skills are vital in today's comm centers, another way to reduce errors is to ensure your keyboarding skills are kept up to par. Numerous typing tutorials and tests are available commercially and free online. Start a challenge in your center that gauges everyone's speed and accuracy. Everyone wants to be the "best," and most telecommunicators are perfectionists, so many will be willing to participate for fun, resulting in more accurate keying and faster typing speeds.

Mistakes are also more prevalent if a telecommunicator doesn't know their jurisdiction's geography. Many street names are similar from area to area, some differing by the addition of a compass direction. Although addressing personnel attempt to review every street name to decrease confusion, many agencies still have a Main Road and a Main Street -- or a Pine Street and a Pine Tree Street. Complicating the issue further are common primary name starters, such as "Wood" in Woodfield, Woodfair and Woodmere, or complicated spelllings, such as Econolatchee Trail, Tamiami Drive or Tchoupitoulas Street. Knowing your jurisdiction with its street names and locations will help minimize problems.

Tip: Make a list of similar street names and share it with your co-workers. Does your center provide map training, map book tests or map challenges? These are all in-house training methods that ensure personnel are aware of their response areas. Ride-alongs with field units can create a bond between response personnel and telecommunicators. Suggestion: Create local treasure hunts in which the telecommunicator must obtain the house number of the blue house on "X" Street or the name of the store at the corner of "Y" Drive and "Z" Road.

As telecommunicators, one of our biggest fears is dispatching units to the wrong location. We rely on the information we receive, and we must verify that information to ensure we heard it right.

2. Lack of Follow-Up & Due Diligence

Lack of follow-up can create the potential for deadly error. Follow-up is essential for 911 hang-up calls. Many agencies require a field unit response and a call back to the phone number. If the line is busy, many agencies require second and third attempts within specific time parameters. It's important to know your agency's policies and procedures, especially those pertaining to hang-up calls, 911 open lines and 911 call backs.

Due diligence is ensuring that the job is done right -- and thoroughly. For those of us familiar with National Crime Information Center (NCIC) teletype operations, we know it's common for the teletype channel to be overwhelmed with requests and backlogged with returns. It can become easy to simply glance at the NCIC information returns, but you might advise field units that a person is "Not Wanted" when in fact a more careful review of the information return would indicate the suspect is "Wanted." Don't become so overwhelmed with the volume of requests that the quality of your review is less than acceptable. This can result in a fatal error.

3. Not Asking For or Relaying Info

Most agencies are adequately staffed for daily operations; however, when a large-scale incident occurs, it seems as though there are never enough personnel on hand. The siege of phones ringing off the hook and the radio garbled with transmissions of field units talking over one another can be intimidating, and it's easy to become overwhelmed. At times like this, telecommunicators must be extra careful. You could easily neglect asking each caller complete questions.

Take a deep breath, depend on your training and skills, and remember that you need to handle each call as a unique situation. Ensure that every fact received on the call is logged into the CAD system. What may not seem pertinent to you at the time could be what breaks a big case in the long run.

Don't forget to ask for the exact location to determine if more than one incident is occurring. Don't miss that single fact a caller tells you that could be life altering. Remember, the only question not answered is the one not asked. Although we can't allow playback features and logging records to become a crutch, they are useful in retrieving information that could have been missed during busy moments.

When it comes to traffic crashes, we must wipe away the "routine call" phenomenon. When an accident occurs on a specific road, it can become routine to pass off all accident calls on that road as being the same just to clear the phone lines. All a caller needs to indicate is a traffic crash on "that stretch of interstate," and telecommunicators immedicately want to say that units are already responding and pick up the next line. Unfortunately, it's common for multiple crashes to occur as a chain reaction after the first. Not asking complete questions can stop the telecommunicator from dispatching field units to a location where there may be serious injuries.

Just because you're currently working a train derailment or car crash doesn't mean that a similar second incident isn't occurring at the same time. Because location is everything, we must ask every caller for the incident's exact location, even if they say it's on the same street. Never skip a question just to respond with, "We already have that report." Don't assume -- ask.

It should be standard to ask a caller about weapons or hazards that may be on scene. If there are weapons, ask how many and what type. If there are hazardous materials, determine what type of material or chemical, how much and whether or not it's contained -- and relay that information to responding units. If information is obtained and not relayed to first responders due to limited radio time or other unforseen circumstances, the result could be officers being shot and killed or fire-rescue personnel being exposed to potentially poisonous materials.

Agencies should have a QA/QC (quality assurance/quality control) program. In fact, it's beneficial if telecommunicators are included in the organization of the monthly call review. It would also be appropriate to have a dispatching review to ensure dispatchers are providing responding units with all of the initial and supplemental dispatch information via the radio or a mobile data computer.

4. Loss of Composure

Answering the phone and hearing desperate screams for help may evoke a strong personal reaction. It's easy to adopt the caller's emotions as your own and react with them. If these emotions are relayed to the caller, they may feel that not only are they out of control, but you are too and there's no help to be found. Relaying emotions via your volume and tone is called voice inflection. On the radio, the sounds of an excited dispatcher can pump up the emotions of responding field units who are already experiencing an adrenaline rush and may be driving at increased speed with lights and siren. Your calm voice may be what prevents their deadly mistake.

Emotions are also involved when a telecommunicator "hypes" a call, or embellishes the facts of a low-priority call to make it a high-priority call. Every time responding units travel hot (with lights and siren), they put themselves and the public at risk for traffic crashes. We must ensure that the true and honest facts of each call are relayed accurately, timely and thoroughly.

5. Making Assumptions

"He did what to a what?" Sometimes we receive calls that are almost too odd or shocking to believe. As calltakers, we cannot make assumptions. Doing so is potentially deadly. Not believing that what's being reported is actually occurring or wasting time trying to convince the caller they're mistaken could cost valuable time for such incidents as stranger abductions. It isn't hyping the call if the facts presented by the caller truly indicate an abduction. Assuming a potential suspect was just playing around when he pushed a woman into a vehicle and took off could be the end to that woman's life.

When there's a long-term, ongoing situation, such as repeat harassment, threats or stalking, never assume. Dispatch the call as received. If the victim wants or needs a law enforcement unit, the comm center is not in a position to see what's occurring on scene and should relay the facts -- as received -- to responders.

Calls from drunk people have their own special set of challenges, but just because a caller is intoxicated does not mean they aren't aware of what's happening. If the intoxicated caller reports an emergency, field units should be dispatched. And sounding intoxicated doesn't mean a person has been drinking alcohol. They could have an altered mental status or speech impediment or be having a stroke or diabetic emergency.

6. Succumbing to Distractions

A telecommunicator must be mentally focused to provide emergency medical dispatch pre-arrival instructions or get the facts in a major felony that's being reported. We must be on our toes, alert and prepared for the duration of our entire shift. Sometimes callers may have only one chance to say their location or report what's occurring. A law enforcement officer who is being ambushed and is shot may only have one chance to report it. If you aren't focused, their one chance may be missed.

As adults with busy lives, we tend to burn the candles at both ends. This is common with individuals who work early mornings and overnight shifts. Public safety communications is a profession in which it's essential to arrive at work awake and alert. Realizing that what you do makes the difference between life and death should be enough to encourage anyone to ensure rest prior to shift.

Some comm centers allow telecommunicators to use televisions, DVD players, have full Internet access and personal laptops on duty; others don't. Regardless, we must keep our main focus on the job that we do. Movies and games can be paused. Laptops can be closed.

Most agencies have call-answering time standards that must be met. Radio channels must be answered immediately, and relaying information to field units must take priority.

7. Lack of Communication

The last deadly error we discuss here is lack of communication, both intra-agency (within one's own agency) and interagency (with other agencies). In agencies with separate calltaking and dispatching assignments, there must be reliable, accurate and timely communications between the calltaker, dispatcher and field units. If the calltaker is aware of hazards, weapons or changes to an incident while field units are responding, the dispatcher must be notified and relay that information to the units. When the incident and its tapes are reviewed is not the time for relevant information to be revealed.

It's standard for EMS responders to stop and stage away from a situation that may be hazardous. Numerous call types, such as a fight in progress, shootings and stabbings, require staging. Yet the most pertinent bit of information for these units to know is when the scene is clear and when they can advance on scene.

Interagency communications must be timely, accurage and documented. If the center is chaotic, it's better to make multiple notifications rather than none. Then, document, document, document. Documentation is the key to ensuring all tasks and duties are completed responsibly and thoroughly.

Learn From Others

We are public safety telecommunicators. It's our nature to want to help others, to be protective of our agency family and to have perfectionist tendencies. No one wants to be the person who makes a deadly mistake. So learn from the errors of others. Complete case study reviews within the comm center and share newspaper or Internet articles about incidents that have occurred elsewhere and the mistakes that might have been made. If we don't learn from mistakes, we're bound to repeat them.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Anonymous Calls: The Dispatcher & The Supreme Court

Taken from Public Safety Communications Magazine, April 2010
Written by Tony Harrison, President of the Public Safety Group and chair of APCO International's Commercial Advisory Council. He has been in public safety for more than 20 years. Prior to serving with the Public Safety Group, he was a supervisor for the Oklahoma City Police Department.

Let's say you receive a call from a person following a drunk driver or a caller tells you that they know a person inside a specific house has drugs or that a person on the street has a gun. In each case, your caller wants to remain anonymous. You'll dispatch all of these calls in accordance with your local policies and procedure. However, does your officer, after they arrive on scene, have the authority to take enforcement action without any further information? According to the U.S. Supreme Court, it just may depend on you.

In a recent article in Law and Order, Randy Means and Pam McDonald examined the issue of what police officers can do with anonymous calls. The authority an officer has may very well depend on your ability to gain information from that anonymous call. McDonald and Means examined a few court cases. The first was Alabama v. White. In this case, the anonymous caller stated that Ms. White would be leaving a specific apartment at a specific time to go to a specific motel in a Plymouth station wagon with a broken taillight and they would have cocaine in a brown attache case. Officers responded, located the car and followed it until they were close to the motel. They stopped her and found cocaine in her car. The Supreme Court ruled that the tip was corroborated by independent police work that provided reasonable suspicion for the stop. The court said the caller obviously had insider knowledge of the situation and the police had been able to corroborate significant aspects of the caller's statements.

In Florida v. J.L., the Court ruled that the anonymous tip lacked sufficient reliability to justify police action (a Terry stop and frisk: under Terry, a police officer may stop a person and perform a limited weapons pat-down if the officer has observed suspicious behavior that would justify making such an examination.). In Florida v. J.L., the caller stated a young black male standing at a location wearing a plaid shirt was carrying a gun. The police located three black males at the location, only one wearing a plaid shirt. The officer approached him, frisked him and seized a gun. The Court said this was an illegal search because the credibility was not established. The caller did not explain how he knew there was a gun or provide other inside knowledge or predictive information that the police could corroborate. The caller did not provide information that could be tested by police to support the credibility of the caller. If the caller could have provided information about the gun or other information that a person driving by would not have known, it would have made the caller more credible.

With anonymous callers about drunk drivers, the U.S. Supreme Court has not given guidance in this area. However, most state courts have upheld the need to make investigative traffic stops on allegedly drunk or erratic drivers even when police have not personally witnessed traffic violations. The reason that most state Supreme Courts have held that officers don't have to witness traffic violations is because of the imminent danger of having a drunk driver on the road. In Virginia, however, the court has a position requiring police to personally observe driving that indicates the driver is intoxicated. Most states don't require this.

What Does All This Mean to Communications?

With anonymous calls, collect as much information as possible:
  • How does the person know what they are reporting?
  • Can they provide you with inside information, such as where the person is going or where they came from, descriptive information of the drugs or weapons or location of drugs or weapons?
  • Can they provide predictive information, such as when the person will leave, where the person is going or what they will be driving?

The more information you can obtain from the anonymous caller, the better the chance your officer will have the information to make an arrest that will stand up to court review. These cases illustrate the importance of a well-trained communications officer and your ability to elicit information from callers. Your role as the first, first responder is critical.

Mishandled 911 Calls: Dealing with Public Scrutiny

Taken from Public Safety Communications Magazine, April 2010
Written by Bob Smith, Director of Strategic Development for APCO International

"In today's news, a recent call to 911 resulted in ______________." I'm sure you can fill in the blank. Recent "exposes" by prime time news organizations have reinforced the perception that the 911 system is broken. Is it? Maybe -- or not.

The point is more about how it's perceived. We teach telecommunicators that "perception is reality." That means that if the little old lady down the street calls 911 because she can't get the batteries into her television remote, her perception is likely that someone will promptly arrive at her house with lights flashing and siren blaring to solve her problem. Is this reality? It is to her. So when a botched 911 call story airs, she can identify with the lack of customer service and professionalism described.

Sometimes these stories provide an opportunity to educate the public about our industry. In January, NBC's Today Show aired a feature that provided a dramatic snapshot of the current state of public safety communications. Although the focus was on a tragic incident in Texas, it was expanded to cover many of the issues we face daily. It was just a quick snapshot, but it was a fairly accurate depiction of the problems plaguing our industry, such as lack of funding, inconsistent or nonexistent training and the inability to recruit and retain staff. Too many times however, the story is less educational and more hostile.

So how do you prevent such stories from making your 911 center part of the latest headlines? Prevent them from happening in the first place. Training personnel and employing an effective quality control program will go a long way toward minimizing such incidents.

Formal policies and procedures are the most effective tools for avoiding increased liability and negative publicity situations. Having policies and procedures in place that are regularly reviewed and updated will lay an optimal foundation.

Another way to ensure your organization is operating as effectively and efficiently as possible is to monitor and evaluate the rest of the industry. Use the lessons learned and experiences of others to benchmark your agency's operations. A good example is emergency medical dispatch (EMD). Many civil suits related to 911 in recent years have stemmed from the failure to provide pre-arrival instructions. In this case, it's apparent that lack of an EMD program or failure to adhere to an existing program can be a source of liability for your agency, and this should be addressed.

Prevention aside, today's comm center director should accept that these types of events can and will occur. The key is to be prepared for the resulting publicity.

Alexander Pope said, "To err is human, to forgive divine." Because we're only human and the public and media we deal with daily are far from divine, the need for preparation is obvious. After your agency has been touched by this type of event, there are a few things to keep in mind.

First, launch an internal investigation, following your agency's policies and procedures for handling complaints and investigations. Hopefully, your agency already has such a formalized process in place. Follow this process as it's written with no deviation. Any level of deviation, modification or omission can be viewed as an attempt to cover up an incident. This policy should also include such factors as who is responsible for conducting the investigation and whether the employee or employees involved in the incident in question are allowed to continue to function in their daily roles or are suspended or assigned elsewhere pending the outcome of the investigation.

Second, be honest and forthcoming. If the media has launched an "investigation" of its own, you can't avoid reporters or attempt to downplay accusations. Most journalists are aware that public safety must maintain confidentiality in some areas and will find this answer agreeable -- if it's explained adequately. One acceptable response: Inquiries involve an active investigation that prohibits releasing any information until the appropriate time. Use caution here. Prolonging an investigation in an attempt to avoid external accusations will only make your agency look worse. Follow your agency's procedures as they are written with no deviation. This includes the amount of time allocated for each stage of the investigation.

Finally, and most importantly, consult your agency's legal counsel. Beyond the negative publicity implications of these events, there's usually some level of increased liability risk, and, therefore, great potential for civil or even criminal charges to be filed. This requires your agency's legal counsel be involved every step of the way.

The bottom line: Benjamin Franklin said, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." In this industry, those are words to live by. Agencies can avoid a majority of negative publicity and public discontent by standardizing training, instituting a formal quality control process and updating policies and procedures regularly. All of these actions will establish an effective operation with limited liability risk and little potential for these incidents to occur. However, these events happen, and the "prevention" Franklin mentions includes being prepared to address them and learn from them.

Friday, April 2, 2010

When We're Bad, We're a Disgrace - When We're Good, We're Ignored

Excperts taken from Police Link website, training articles
Written by Michelle Perin, police telecommunications operator with Phoenix AZ Police Department for eight years. She received her B.S. in Justice & Social Inquiry/English Literature from Arizona State University. She now writes full time.

It doesn't take much effort to find emergency communications operators doing things wrong. Criminal behavior and poor choices show up in the newspaper, on television, and in thousands of e-mails sent from government watch groups. Sometimes the behavior warrants front page placement, but most of the time it's the person's employer which makes it newsworthy. For example, since October, 2006:

Guilford Metro (NC) dispatcher Shannon Crawley was charged with murder.
Austin (TX) 911 dispatcher Eric Mackey received a written reprimand after ignoring a call about smoke from a restaurant which subsequently burned
Cleveland (OH) dispatcher Tina Wickline faced administrative trouble over saying "shoot to kill" to a detective who soon shot and killed the teenager they were discussing
Milford (CT) fire dispatcher Teresa Burrows, and police dispatcher Steven Gifford were terminated over comments such as "he's doing the funky chicken" while getting medical assistance for a prisoner who eventually died
Carbon County (PA) 911 dispatcher Joseph D. Homanko Jr. received community service for sending police and fire units to a non-existant brushfire
Hudson (OH) dispatcher Russell D. McCormick was charged with felony theft in office for stealing $1,400 in cash payments for parking tickets
Philadelphia (PA) dispatchers Patricia Bradley and Tamara Mitchell were charged with extortion for selling information to an individual who stated he was going to rob the houses

These examples are just a few which made the news and a small portion of the incidents of bad behavior occurring within police departments. Communications operators, like any other members of society make both good and bad decisions. But unlike most citizens, when they make a mistake, their title alerts the media.

Most communications operators perform well, but when they don't everyone knows. For example, when one of my co-workers was found having sex with an officer in the back of his patrol car in our bureau parking lot, we all knew. Supervisors managed to keep it out of the papers, but internally everyone was talking. Even in situations not as extreme, such as when a 911 operator makes a bad choice in wording to a caller, the incident is gossiped about. But, what if an operator does something good? What about when a 911 operator comforts a child who just witnessed his mother's murder? What about a dispatcher who works an officer-involved shooting with poise and efficiency? Will a good operator be recognized in the media, or even in the supervisor's pod? Sadly, the answer is, most likely, "no."

In their 2005 book The Effective Corrections Manager, Richard Phillips and Charles McConnell state lack of recognition is one of the most frequent reasons people quit their jobs. Everyone likes to be acknowledged, especially when their job is stressful and extremely thankless. For the most part, a citizen is not going to ask to speak with your supervisor to say you did an excellent job, even if it involved a carjacking withh small children in the back, and you managed to track down the car, calm down the caller, direct officers in to rescue the kids, recover the car without damage, and arrest the criminal. It's not that many citizens aren't appreciative. They are. It's just often the officer at the scene gets his rightfully-earned gratitude, and also yours. And, many times, citizens intend to call and commend you, but things are forgotten. And, generally if a call is handled correctly on the part of the police department, the information goes straight from the media employee's hand into the trash can. So, where should recognition come from? Supervisors.

Credit where credit is due

Morale is one of the biggest complaints in the emergency communications business. The job is stressful. The hours are long. The work can be sedentary and boring, or it can be overwhelming. Employees work bizarre shifts while still trying to maintain a life away from the department and include a bit of time for their families, and maybe themselves. For all these reasons, it is important that supervisors recognize an employee doing a good job. Many departments have established rituals like the Employee of the Month, but if my former employer's record is any indication of other departments, the board had huge gaps when nobody was nominated. Knowing the exemplary work my peers did, I don't believe this was due to no one qualifying for recognition. Having a supervisor say you do a good job can lead to a positive work environment.

Another important aspect about employee recognition is to make sure the employees know when they're recognized. Recently, a police communications operator was reviewing her personnel file and was surprised to find a myriad of commendations and letters of appreciation she had received over her career. She didn't even know she had many of these. This is unfortunate, because the writer took the time to get these letters of recognition approved and would not be happy knowing their gratitude and recognition were shoved into the receiver's file without presentation. Recognition isn't any good if it is silent. Operators need to know when they do well.

If you are a supervisor, recognize your employees. Tell them when they do something right or are performing well. Advise them when someone else, whether a peer, a supervisor, or a patrol officer, recognizes them. Encourage your employees to recognize each other and let you know when someone does something worth praising. An increase in positive reinforcement could mean the difference between an average employee and one maximizing their potential.

If you are an operator, do your job well. Insist on a work place which includes recognition. If you do something worthwhile, nominate yourself for recognition if you have to. Check your personnel records; you might find a letter of commendation you didn't know you had. Encourage field units and supervisors to speak up when you and your peers excel. Let a supervisor know when a co-worker does something well. A positive atmosphere with mutual respect and recognition can be one of the best places to work.

When a communications operator does something wrong, people will hear about it. Headlines will remind every public servant how easy it is to make a poor decision and end up disciplined, fired, or worse. Every conversation with internal and external customers is a chance to make a personal and professionally devastating mistake. Every action outside of the work place also holds the possibility of ruining a reputation and career. But, more times than not, operators are not behaving badly and making the news. Usually, they are doing an excellent job and being ignored.

A Dispatcher's Promise to Their Loved Ones

Taken from Police Link Website, training articles

Unknown author

This is going to be a strange title for a training article, but I wanted to provide something that I give to all my new trainees for their families. I believe it is a vital tool for a new telecommunicator to have. Just like all emergency responders, dispatchers also carry stress home with them at times. As hard as we may try, it still happens. This is a one page sheet I give them to give to their families that will hopefully help them understand the stress of their new career.


I became involved with emergency service work because there is a need for people to help others in trouble. Sometimes there are calls I receive, however, that are difficult to talk about--even with the people I love and trust most in the world.

There are, at times, experiences that hurt me very deeply, and I might bring my suffering home. Sometimes my feelings bother me so much that I can't even talk about them. Maybe it's because I don't want you to even imagine what I've suffered, or maybe it's because I'm afraid that you won't fully understand the depth of my feelings. During these times, I may become moody or irritable, and I may not seem to care much about your feelings or problems.

You love me for who I am. I chose to do what I do because it is so important to me and to those I help, and although it is sometimes difficult, I love what I do, and I do it well. I'm proud of what I am and I hope you are proud of me.

There are times, though, when I feel that I didn't do enough--so many people out there depend upon me; there are times when I get frustrated and even angry with my co-workers, myself and even the victims or tragedy. There are times that the horrors I have to deal with just overwhelm me. That's when I have to sort things out, by myself, or with others who were there with me.

So, please, if I have a really bad call and just can't talk, or seem irritable, it isn't because I don't love and care for you, it's not because I doubt your love and concern for me. I'm just not ready to open up. When this happens, don't try to understand, just accept the fact that I am hurting--and that I'll talk to you when I can.

Officer-Dispatcher Relations-Dealing with the Love/Hate Thing

Taken from Police Link Website, Training Articles
Written by Michelle Perin who worked as a police telecommunications operator with the Phoenix AZ Police Department for eight years.

The relationship between officers and dispatchers is unique. It's been described as a love/hate thing. I love her for getting me back-up quickly in that fight. Or, I hate her for seeing I statused eating for ten minutes past the approved time and clearing me over the radio to ask about it. It is also parasitic. Both the officer and the dispatcher feed off the other. The officer gets the information he needs without having to look it up on his own. The dispatcher gets to have a bit of excitement in patrol without actually having to be out there being spit on. The relationship is similar to a marriage. Like many, it is co-dependent and, often, dysfunctional. The funny thing is there are few sources for nurturing the officer/dispatcher relationship. No books like 101 Ways to Keep Your Officer Happy. No counselors trained in crisis intervention when the relationship turns sour. So, what are a dispatcher and her officer to do? Here are five tips aimed at happy marriages. They have been altered to fit.

1. Adhere to the correct role relationships

Officers are not trained to do a dispatcher's job and dispatchers are not trained to do an officer's job. This statement is simple enough. Unfortunately, in practice it gets a bit more complicated. Often officers feel like dispatchers are telling them how to go about their routine business. After all, most dispatchers get to tell officers what calls to take, what time they can eat and whether or not the person they are out with is a dangerous felon who might decide he doesn't really want to go back to jail. There is a lot of power there. But, like Spiderman was told, "with great power comes great responsibility." And part of the responsibility of being a dispatcher is remembering that officers know what they are doing. If they aren't taking a call or don't ask for some information, there is a reason. Remember, as a dispatcher, your role is to assist the officer along with dispatching calls for service. Officers, likewise, need to remember the distinct roles. Dispatchers are there to help, but they also have certain policies and procedures. They're also required to follow any directives given at any moment, like the liuetenant saying no one eats until that burglary holding since this morning is taken care of. If each remembers their role, the marriage can be a pleasant one.

2. Forgive and Forget Conflicts

This is a huge must. Officers and dispatchers can hold on to an incident long after the moment has passed, the animosity lasting for hours, or days, or years. When my husband switched squads, he told me of a chat he had in briefing. Another officer told my husband, in reference to me, "I remember her. I typed her something once and she sent back this nasty reply." Regardless of the thousands of interactions I had with officers, this one thought of me negatively over a single incident. And it goes both ways. If an officer goes on a traffic stop right after you give him a paper call, you might think he did it to avoid the call and, in essence, to spite you. It sure feels that way, but it's usually not the case. The biggest thing to keep in mind when you feel slighted is it probably wasn't intentional. With a quick phone call or text message, the issue can be worked out. And, if the other person, be it the officer or the dispatcher, was just being nasty, oh, well. No point getting yourself all worked up over it. Like the saying goes, holding a grudge is like taking poison and expecting the other person to die.

3. Live on a Mature Level

This should go without saying, but if you consider the age differences in police work, some of the confusion can be cleared up. Imagine a 19-year-old rookie working with a 64-year-old dispatcher, or a 52-year-old veteran and a 21-year-old dispatcher. There are going to be conflicts, but again, there are many things that can be done to keep the marriage harmonious, no matter how Spring-Autumn. First, like with forgive and forget, talk things through. If you feel something about the other's professionalism needs to be addressed, try to work it out. If that doesn't work and it's detrimental to the police department, take it to a supervisor. After all, you are colleagues, not siblings. Second, as long as they aren't dangerous, accept the flaws in the other. He might naturally sound amped up all the time, even when asking to eat. She might have an annoying voice that reminds you of nails on a chalkboard. Try to overcome the annoyance and accept them for their ability to do their job.

4. Keep a Shared Passion

Entering the law enforcement field is not a decision most people take lightly. Many officers talk about how they wanted to be a cop since they were "this high." Although few dispatchers dreamed of the headset at a young age, once they get into that seat, they love their job. People in both occupations often have similar attributes; they like to be in control, they want to help people, they are organized, and the have confidence. Although these traits play a huge role in the officer/dispatcher marriage conflict, keep in mind the big picture. Everyone is trying to help the community, to serve and protect and to do one of the finest jobs in the world--public safety. Shying away from the us vs. them ideology will help you remember you're all on the same team.

5. Know When You Are Talking Too Much

Enough said.

Police work can be challenging without the added difficulty of a troubled relationship between the officers and dispatchers. The good news is that by working together, like in a healthy marriage, you can enjoy a wonderful, fulfilled relationship. Accept each other. Support each other. Encourage each other. You're in it together. You might as well be happy, because divorce isn't an option.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Why So Many Questions?

Taken from blog "911 Not 411"

The questions 911 calltakers are trained to ask are not to delay response of necessary responders but to enhance the responders' needs and to protect the caller or any nearby citizens. The answers that are provided are relayed to all of the responders who are enroute. This relay of information provides the responder with vital information about the call itself, the nature of the problem, the people it is effecting, the severity of the situation, and the protection of the responder and anyone nearby.

This information also helps the responders determine whether there is a need for lights and siren or if they can respond with the flow of traffic. The caller's answers to these questions help ensure the right unit is dispatched, the right number of units are sent, in the right mode of response. The Fire/EMS and Law Enforcement system as a whole also is utilized more than ever before. The information obtained through careful interrogation of the caller allows the dispatcher to correctly prioritize the calls and send the units to the calls needing the quickest assistance first.

Without the information, the calls would line up and be dispatched in the order they were received. For example, a minor fender bender could be handled before a grandmother in cardiac arrest. The use of properly trained 911 dispatchers can positively influence all aspects of Fire/EMS and Law Enforcement response.