Does your agency allow dispatch sit-alongs? Letting a civilian, a member of the media, a field personnel, or even a potential dispatch candidate sit alongside a Public Safety Telecommunicator for a shift is a great method for sharing what we do. I can describe the various tasks until I run out of breath: showing you how i perform my job is the difference between night and day.
Every agency is different. Some departments are combined law enforcement / fire/ emergency medical services (ems). Others may split duties: one taking law enforcement and the other fire & emergency medical services. Generally, police take the primary role in answering the 9-1-1 lines first at the first (or primary) Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP). Any calls for fire or ems are then transferred to the secondary PSAP. In some areas, ems may be handled by another dispatch center. Finally, a non-traditional dispatch exists that may not handle 9-1-1 calls but still dispatches law enforcement, fire, or ems units just not 24 hours a day or for other government or private organizations.
Public Safety Telecommunicators can work using old fashioned paper logs or via computer-aided dispatch (CAD) systems. In some cases, they can do both at the same time. Radio system equipment vary as well, from the desk-top mike with a simple base station to a complex system using multiple microwave linked repeaters for a State-wide dispatch using a computerized radio program. Dispatchers may be call-takers only, rotate between call-taking & radio, or do everything.
Depending on the agency, a waiver may be required before a sit-along can be done. The person should be given a quick orientation. It is a good idea to warn the person that he or she will probably hear inappropriate language and/or situations. He or she should also be warned about repeating information hear. This information should be covered on a waiver.
If possible, have the person sit with a dispatcher who is not performing NCIC or criminal history inquiries. If a criminal history inquiry must be done, have the person step away while that process is being done as they can't see that return on the screen (or do it later). Explain what you are doing as you can. Point out the activity of the field personnel. Answer questions.
Remember, this person should walk away with a positive experience. You want them on your side. Seeing what you do, talking, thinking, typing(writing), coordinating all at the same time is a good thing.
Soon, the National Public Safety Telecommunicator Week will be upon us. Let's foster good will.
Stay safe out there!