My sister-in-law is an emergency dispatcher...and she has a combination of almost perfect skills and personality to handle the job. She's tough, but kind of heart, she's sassy and a bit cocky, (call it confident), she's seen enough of human nature to recognize foolery, and she loves her work. And through my relationship with her on Face Book, I've made friends with HER dispatcher friends and admire and respect the hell out of what they do.
Unless a dispatcher really screws up you rarely hear of them. The glory often goes to the police, fire, medical or other first responders who are on scene. But those first responders know damn well the value of that person back behind the desk with the high tech communication equipment and computer screens.
These dispatchers have to have the "cool and calm" and the talent for rational thought at a time when the madness and chaos of an emergency would seem to preclude it. When everyone else is losing their head they must keep theirs. I know of this personally because I filled that job for over a year in Vietnam.
As a member of the 377th Security Police Squadron, Tan Son Nhut Air Base, in Saigon, I worked in two different command and communication centers. In our primary office, which we called Central Security Control, there were five of us security comtrollers, each responsible for dispatch and management of over two hundred security policeman.
The job was a piece of cake during routine patrols. We approved restroom, meal and out of service breaks, logged rotations, maintained a blotter logging medical incidents, suspicious activity and other incidents. Our Central Security Control (CSC) was responsible for the hundreds of Security Police manning the night shift base defense positions.
Our second Control Center, called the Joint Defense Operations Center, or JDOC, coordinated defense response efforts between the Air Force Security Police with the Army and Air Units who augmented us in keeping the base secure. For example, when we received mortar or rocket attacks from the enemy, our rocket observation towers took readings on where the mortars or rockets were launched, then we sent up helicopter or C-130 gunships to take out the launch sites.
Both of these centers served a valuable purpose and, needless to say, they only selected folks who could handle emergencies under stress and still get the job done. And, as I said earlier, the job was not that hard....until the shit hit the fan.
When we came under attack, we in the CSC, or JDOC had five channels of radio call-ins, all squawking for additional ammo, reinforcements, medical attention for the injured, vehicle damage reports, weapons malfunctions, and sometimes just the need for calm reassurance from a few troops frightened by the enemy breaching the perimeters, a bunker exploding from a B-40 ground launched personnel rocket.
In addition to handling the security forces we would be trying to take calls from squadron and base commanders, alarmed when the base sirens were activated. It got pretty hectic. Because all of the communications were recorded I still have copies of a couple of tapes of those chaotic hours.
So, when I think about those hectic hours, and appreciate the "infrequency" that we had to endure them (six or eight times a year), I can truly appreciate what Emergency Dispatchers today have to go through every night of the week, every week of the year.
And the tasks get more difficult every year. The explosive crime rates, fueled by robberies, mob-robs, rape, domestic violence, auto accidents, DUI's, drug induced erratic behavior, and all manner of human perversions strains the capabilities of our first responders and induces immeasurable stress on those who take that initial call and make the decision on how to best ration the resources to deal with these emergencies.
And that does not include the "silliness calls"; 911 calls for the most frivolous of reasons. Just in the last few months I've read of 911 dispatchers taking complaints from a "John" who called to complain that his "call girl" showed up for action at his hotel and wasn't as attractive as promised. I imagine my sister-in-law and her dispatcher friends could write a book delving into the utter stupidity of the calling public.
So, if you never have to call 911, bless you. But if you ever need too, be glad there are some rock solid folks managing those phone banks. Only the best know how to do it because those that can't handle the chaos and the stress get culled out pretty damn quick. Be grateful to those folks at the other end of the phone...they are working to keep you safe...and they serve as brilliantly as the policeman, or fire fighter or medic who shows up at your door...or in the middle of a blood strewn highway.
And one more thing...after that 911 operator has metaphorically "held your hand", and tried to calm and comfort you until help arrives..before you break connection at the first arrival of that help..be sure and say "thanks"...they've earned it.