Newly hired 911 dispatchers begin training

A group of newly hired 911 dispatchers has begun an intensive training period to prepare them for the realities of answering emergency calls from people in the midst of life’s most stressful situations.

The job requires the dispatchers to bring sound judgment, street savvy, compassion, patience, and, occasionally, a thick skin to every call. Over the course of the 480 hours of training, dispatchers will review protocols for more than 100 types of calls and learn techniques to calm callers and quickly obtain crucial information for first responders.

The addition of nine new 911 dispatchers will fill existing vacancies in the department and help it maintain service capacity in anticipation of normal staff turnover and potential retirements. Having additional trained staff on hand is a requirement for a public safety service that must be at capacity 24 hours a day, year round.

While most people can easily understand that working under pressure at a rapid pace makes for a stressful job, you might be surprised to learn that one of the stresses of being a 911 operator can stem from lack of closure. While first responders are often at the scene or with a victim for a long stretch of time, a 911 dispatcher must instantly switch gears. Instead of being on hand at the scene and working toward some sort of resolution of the problem, a 911 dispatcher must quickly move from one call to the next. A call about a kidnapping might be followed by a call about a fire and then a call about a car accident. The call is dispatched and then it’s on to the next call: as a result, 911 dispatchers rarely learn the outcome of the calls they dispatch.

The Minneapolis 911 center averages about 2,000 calls a day in the summer and about 1,500 calls a day in the winter. The average answer time is 7½ seconds; however, call waiting time varies with the situation. Call answer times can increase on a busy summer night when many people are out. Besides the variability of how many incidents occur on any given day, call waiting time can increase significantly when scores or even hundreds of people call 911 about the same issue. A big incident — a bar fight or a car accident, for example — can be witnessed by many people, all of whom can easily make calls with their cell phones.

Once this group of 911 operators completes their call handling training, they’ll return for additional training on dispatching. Minneapolis uses a two-stage process for handling emergency calls: the 911 dispatcher assigned as a call taker handles the initial call and a second dispatcher, after learning the nature of the emergency, then dispatches the needed police or fire response. Cross-training ensures that staff can handle both functions.

In all cases, the 911 operator is the link between the public and emergency service providers. The entire emergency response begins with that first phone call.

 

Published Feb. 27, 2013