April 10-16,2011 is the annual National Public Safety Telecommunications Week. WHat are Public Safety Communicators? Most people know those who do the job as "9-1-1 Operators".
The idea of a week honoring Telecommunicators was started in 1981, by Patricia Anderson, a Public Safety Dispatcher at Contra Costa (CA)Sheriff's Department. After 3 years, a few other agencies started their own celebration. In 90's the Associated Public Safety Communications Officials, Inc (APCO, Inc) took up the cause, prompting Edward J. MArkey (R) of Mass to introduce H.J Resoultion 284. It was finally passed in 1994, after yearly introduction to Congress.
9-1-1 Telecommunicators are known by different names: Public Safety Dispatchers, Public Safety Telecommuniators, and 9-1-1 Telecommunicators. No matter which job title the agency calls the person behind that radio and/or phone, the men and woemn do the job with pride. The majority of the calls handled are done without incident. Public and field personnel count on dispatchers to obtain and process information in a timely and precise manner every day.
Most of the time, the Public's first, and many times the only contact, with a member of the Public Safety will be with a dispatcher at a Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP). Most of these calls are handled without incident. Field personnel expect disaptchers to swiftly obtain the necessary information and slect & send the closest appropriate units. Unfortunately, it is that 0.01% of the calls that makes the news, not the 99% of events handled correctly.
It's not an easy job to do. Probation may be anywhere from six months to a year. Training is extensive, in some cases equal to the probationary period. Depending on the Agency, a new hire must learn call-taking, the Computer-Aided-Dispatch (CAD) system, fire dispatching, a computer system on inquiry/entry/updates for persons/property/warrants (and many other systems), Emergency Medical Dispatching (not all agencies have this), and law enforcement dispatching, the geography of the jurisdiction, laws of the state and local area, policies of the department (and of any agencies they contract to dispatch for), and local policies for the City/County/State they are based in.
On top of all that, dispatchers are now expected to be 4-1-1 sources. People call 9-1-1 with all sorts of questions: directions, calls for other areas - including other states, and in many circumstances, the caller is so hysterical, the dispatcher has to calm the person down enough to determine what & where the problem is before any help can be sent.
Why should you care about dispatchers? One day when a familt member gets sick, you see your neighbor's house in flames, or you hear strange noices outside in your backyard, you wil pick up your phone and dial 9-1-1. There have been departments that have laid off their Communiactions Center personnel, and contracted to the Sheriff's Department. You'll still get someone answering the call, but the person might take a few more rings to do it. It's not tha 9-1-1 dispatchers fault. More calls coming their way make it a little tougher. Did the department add staff to account for the call volume increase, or are they remaining at same levels?
A few tips for when you dial 9-1-1
-don't hang up until you are told to
-give your address clearly, along with the type of street (ave, rd, etc) and any apartment or business name, the city
-give your phone number with area code
-try to speak clearly
-the dispatcher may not say it, but usually they are entering the call while he/she is talking to you
-when the dispatcher is asking questions on a police event, it is for a reason - officers can pass by a suspect on the way to your location
- tell the dispatcher about any weapons!!
-for child abductions/runaways, get a recent photograph and try to recall what type of clothing he/she was wearing