Thursday, January 12, 2012

What's Your Emergency

“911 Overland Park,” the voice on the other end of the line says. The voice belongs to that of a 911 dispatcher. Our dispatchers are typically your first point of contact in an emergency situation. Their role in the police department is usually overshadowed by more glamorous jobs like SWAT and CSI, but make no mistake, the job requires a very special skill set.

The city’s job description for a Police Dispatcher outlines those required skills. Among other things it lists the “ability to work in an environment with constant interruptions”. Dispatchers actually answer 911 calls, non-emergency calls and calls from officers so the interruptions can be very frequent. “Good oral communication skills” is a requirement. Yes, I think we can all agree this would be very important. Patience was another skill. It was listed as number 11 under mental requirements, but if you worked just one day with any Police Dispatcher, you might think it belongs in the number one position. The requirement of good listening skills was one the list, too.

And listen they will. They have heard it all from, “Help! My child’s not breathing” to even the calls that would be more appropriate for the non-emergency line, such as the elderly man whose wife had recently passed and he needed someone to talk him through making a cup of hot chocolate. You call and they will be there to answer.

In those emergency situations, dispatchers are there for police officers and public alike. They have to work quickly, take information from one and relay it to another. Like a police officer, their day can go from quiet and calm to hectic in a moment. Through it all they maintain composure and answer the call. They may be out of sight and seemingly out of mind, but they are the unsung heroes of the police department.