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Dispatchers are key link between citizens, emergercy response
Ceres Police Chief Art deWerk

Public safety dispatchers are the critical link between citizens and public safety services, like fire, police and emergency medical care. They are among the most important people within the public safety system.

April 14-20 is National Public Safety Telecommunications Week (also known as National Dispatchers Week), a time to dedicate time and appreciation to those in the public safety dispatching profession. It is interesting, if not unfortunate, that the people from whom society demands the most receive only mediocre compensation and are rarely thought about. This is not to say that dispatchers are the only people who play a very important role in the service of others; ambulance personnel, school teachers, workers who attend to individuals with special needs, hospice employees and nurses are also among the least appreciated while at the same time are the ones who give much of themselves to help other people.

Public safety dispatchers do not simply transfer information from callers who need help to emergency services personnel; they are skilled interviewers who must have an enormous amount of knowledge about the communities they serve, they have to have emergency medical care knowledge along with a multitude of other skills in order to do the job. They are specially trained to help keep panic-stricken or terrified people calm, while using skills and experience to extract critical information from people who are sick, dying, injured, under attack or otherwise experiencing a wide range of emergencies. The training itself is not enough; dispatchers must possess the ability to think and act very clearly while under tremendous pressure and having to carry out multiple tasks simultaneously.

Dispatchers encounter dozens of languages and dialects, and they must be able to perform all of these functions while conducting computer searches, entering call information and related data, and dispatching the appropriate resources. And if all of that is not enough, dispatchers must be able to key information into computers while at the same time speaking to a caller with an emergency, listening and replying to radio traffic from multiple agencies and dealing with other interruptions from co-workers or safety personnel requesting information for their reports. Only a very small percentage of people are able to master these skills, and just one minor informational mistake can lead to imperiling the lives of victims and emergency field crews.

A dispatch center that serves a community the size of Ceres with about 46,000 inhabitants, handles approximately 250 to 350 calls for service every 24 hours. All phone calls combined during a 24-hour period can exceed 1,000. At the same time, dispatchers are responding to field units' radio traffic. Unfortunately, some members of the public have come to view the 911 Emergency Dispatch Center as an information resource for routine matters like getting directions, phone numbers or asking the address of a business or residence. When that happens it compromises the efficiency of the operation and actually can add to the potential for problems when dispatchers are handling urgent or emergency calls.

In terms of the dispatchers' work environment, most of them have to be located deep inside their buildings for security purposes, where there are no windows or in-person contact with the outside world. So, you have to wonder why they do it -- the pay does not compensate for the stress, the lousy hours and lack of recognition associated with the job. These people are truly unsung heroes who find the intrinsic rewards of the job to be the true compensation for it.

Dispatchers are truly a special breed. They are extraordinary people, who, from moment-to-moment, must serve as psychologists, strategists, multi-taskers, emergency medical coaches, secretaries, counselors and pastors. They richly deserve the one week dedicated to them each year. I am proud of our dispatchers, and of the profession as a whole. I can only thank God for having made people who have the skills, personality and selfless commitment to perform such a difficult job for our society.