Wednesday, March 20, 2013

"The Call" the first movie featuring a Public Safety Telecommunicator

It's the first movie to feature Public Safety Telecommunicators in a primary roll. According to The Call's web site, the movie's premise is the following:

"When veteran 911 operator, Jordan (Halle Berry), takes a life-altering call from a teenage girl (Abigail Breslin) who has just been abducted, she realizes that she must confront a killer from her past in order to save the girl's life."
Well, there is a little more to the story then that. If you don't want to know any more, than stop right here.
Halle Berry plays a Public Safety Dispatcher (911 Dispatcher, Call-taker) for the Los Angeles Police Department. In the opening, the Communications Center, referred to as 'the Hive', is a large, roomy place with multiple workstations filled with the normal equipment one would see in a Public Safety Answering point (PSAP): computers, monitors, reference books, alarms, etc. Supervisors are roaming to assist the dispatch personnel, uniformed officers are coming in to conduct business, and dispatch personnel are answering calls.

Halle is in uniform, wearing a headset. She answers calls, confirming address, even asking if the address is between two cross streets. When given a name, she enters it in a data base and gets an DMV match with the corresponding photograph. She obtains basic information, descriptions of suspects, and tries to keep in-progress Persons Reporting (other agencies call them Reporting Parties, or RPs  - - same thing). So far, okay. In the background, co-workers handle medicals and fire calls.

When 'Jordan' was teaching her new dispatchers, why not go over a new basics, to clue in the movie audience. Briefly touch on any dispatch protocol systems for guiding callers? When the second kidnapping occurred, the probationary dispatcher threw up her hands and said she didn't know what to do, wasn't there a protocol guide for person locked in a trunk?

There wasn't a dedicated radio person, at least, not that I could tell. For this movie, the focus was on the call-taking aspect, so maybe that's why that part of the communications center was left out. Not ever been in LAPD's Comm Center, I'm only guessing, but Halle's role (Jordan) put out the call's that were particular to this movie (burglary and kidnapping out over the radio. As she obtained updated information, she entered the data straight in to the Computer-Aided Dispatch (CAD) event AND broadcast the information, too. She stayed in the Comm Center until the Supervisor finally ordered her out.

I did like the instructions 'Jordan' gave to the girl in the truck. The one she left out? How about the trunk release? Maybe the department's policy has something against recommending that depending on location - I certainly can't speak for LAPD.

Now, on to the few concerns I had. Halle's character did get emotionally involved with the event. That is one thing we all can't afford to do. That is not to say we can't empathize with victims, we can, but allowing out emotions to play with calls is a mistake. No dispatcher will last very long if he or she does so - and that is a fact. Studies have shown Public Safety Telecommunicators are prone to PTSD over time.  'Jordan' became so ingrained with the incident, she went to the scene to get involved. A major 'no-no' in any event. Leave the investigations to the law enforcement officers. As for the ending, very Hollywood, and sure - wouldn't many of us secretly like to let the bad guy die a long, slow, death by starvation bound in a chair underground? Realistic? No, not really.

I would have liked Halle to end with a final comeback to Michael's snide remark, "You're the operator."

Jordan should have said, "NO, I'm a Public Safety Telecommunicator."and end the movie.

It would have been nice had the producers chose to first premere the movie during the National Public Safety Communicators Week, April 14th - 20th, 2013. As for my watching it, I couldn't help but do so with a critical eye. I guess that's no different than a law enforcement officer seeing 'Lethal Weapon" or a firefighter watching 'backdraft'. One has to decide to enjoy the movie for entertainment value. In the end, I was just happy to see a movie specifically about disaptchers. Remember, this is not the first time dispatchers have appeared on the silver screen, it's the first time our profession is the primary subject.

The few technical questions aside, I enjoyed the movie. I think it gave a good portrayal of a 911 call center. The calls ranged from nuisance to in-progress requests. The dispatch center was shown as an area of a control chaos - and which one isn't a bee-hive of activity? It makes sense that the movie was orginally called 'The Hive" and is referred to as such by the staff. Did I enjoy it? Yes, but I will admit to a couple of the call-taking scenes hitting home and bringing up some memories I thought I'd buried deep.
Take a chance and see "The Call".

The Call official trailer

if you're curious, check out web site for a little fun

stay safe out there

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