National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week (April 10-16)

We're celebrating National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week (April 10-16).

Titles vary among agencies. If "Telecommunicator" doesn't paint a verbal picture for you, think "Call Taker" and "Dispatcher". In some places, it is the same person who does both. At some agencies, today's Call Taker may be tomorrow's Dispatcher. Or the other way around. Kinda' like "Today's complainant is tomorrow's suspect". Well, maybe not.

While some may be lighting up the outdoor grill to serve the finest Telecommunicators the finest hot dogs the budget can afford, we will take a different approach.

We're going to tell a few secrets. Not the sanitized-for-TV stuff, either. These are the secrets about which you might tell what, but not who, when or where. Usually, why has to remain a mystery, anyway -- because we'll just never know.

The job is not for everyone

We have curated a few videos to help illustrate what Public Safety Telecommunicators experience. A theme, common to many of the videos, is "the job is not for everyone".

Be glad there are people who can do this job. If you can cut it, there's probably a department that needs you.

The seats are hard to fill. First, the Agency has to recruit from the human race. That's the root of the first obstacle. How many of the people you went to school with can pass a 20-year Criminal Background Check? I just have trouble with the form where you have to list all your addresses and the dates you lived there. But, chances are that some of the people you went to school with, will have to use extra pages to list their convictions. They're flat out just not getting hired.

Patrol Officer (with suspect in custody): "Would you put his full information in my box?"

Dispatcher: "It's still printing."

Most people couldn't do the job. In fact, most people couldn't do part of the job. Imagine taking calls from people who are having their worst day. In between are people with no clue about when not to call 9-1-1.

Dispatcher: "Ma'am, I understand you are concerned about your patio furniture with the hurricane so close. And, it would be nice if the Fire Department would come by and secure them for you. But, as it turns out, they are very busy with water rescues, today. Perhaps a neighbor could help you?"

Can you do that? Can you carry on a conversation while looking up a cross street and typing a narrative while handling four radio channels?

Patrol Officer: "[callsign garbled and covered by wind noise] "SHOTS FIRED at Police! Subject barricaded. Need at least two more units for inner perimeter. Need Tactical and start EMS!"

Dispatcher: "Received, 5-Edward-17. You have shots fired at police and a barricaded subject. Requesting at least two additional units for inner perimeter, Tactical and EMS at 1241 Flaka St."

The Dispatcher can see his call sign on the screen, even though it was inaudible. Besides, she knows his voice.

Drawing a quick breath, off microphone, she continues transmitting,

"Break. K-9-14, are you enroute to 1241 Flaka St.?"

K-9-14: "K-9-14, Tenf…"

Dispatcher: "Available Edward units: Identify and respond with K-9-14 to back 5-Edward-17 at 1241 Flaka St., Barricaded Subject with shots fired at police."

She has been typing, to update the call in CAD, and to send call info, so far, to SWAT, K9, the Watch Commander and the PIO. Three seats over, the EMS Dispatcher has been monitoring and has directed an ALS ambulance unit to stage a few blocks away from the scene.

We could take a single shift and fill a book.


Fire and EMS

Fire and EMS call takers and dispatchers face similar pressures.

They are also concerned with the safety of the responding units and the public.

And, they may be on the line with the caller with pre-arrival instructions until responders make contact.

What You Can Do

Some agencies may welcome Citizens to "Jack in" at the elbow of Call Takers and Dispatcher's for a shift or part of one. Typically, for guest access to such an important location and exposure to sensitive information, there will be expectations for your conduct. You can reasonably expect to have your criminal history reviewed for past felony convictions and checked for active warrants.

Your local police or Sheriff may hold a Citizens Academy. These academies usually include weekly two hour sessions for 10 to 14 weeks and involve briefings and tours of all aspects of the agency. This usually includes a tour at Dispatch and a ride out with a patrol officer.

Citizens Academy Alumni Associations are a pool for volunteer opportunities that benefit the community. That can include role playing for officer training, child fingerprinting, crime prevention outreach and providing extra hands for special projects.

And, you can bet they're doing something for National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week.

What Else You Can Do?

Know where you are.

Officers seem to universally enjoy a challenge game with their riders. "Where are you?" If something happened and you had to call for help, you need to know where you are -- right now.

And, it's a big win-win when they think they've driven you in circles enough and you nail it. The corner of Blue Bluff and Bloor Roads or the corner of Nameless and No Name Roads, two actual 100-point questions with the added difficulties of no street lighting, landmarks or street signs.

You should be able to do this as you drive around on your own daily errands. It will keep you sharp.

But sometimes, under pressure, it is hard enough to remember your own address. You might be surprised to know how many times people give call takers an old address, by mistake.

Post your address near your land line phones and note the nearest cross street. Maybe even a house description. You will make a Call Taker's day, perhaps and you'll be helping them help you faster.

Be safe.