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Archive for Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Emergency dispatchers celebrated for their behind-the-scenes work

‘Never a dull moment’ for dispatchers

Lori Alexander, who’s been on the job for 11 years, works Wednesday at her dispatcher station in a secure area of the Judicial & Law Enforcement Center, 111 E. 11th St. Thirteen dispatchers work in split shifts around the clock to answer about 240,000 emergency 911 and other telephone calls every year.

Lori Alexander, who’s been on the job for 11 years, works Wednesday at her dispatcher station in a secure area of the Judicial & Law Enforcement Center, 111 E. 11th St. Thirteen dispatchers work in split shifts around the clock to answer about 240,000 emergency 911 and other telephone calls every year.

April 15, 2009

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Emergency dispatchers celebrated for their behind-the-scenes work

They serve as the lifeline for people needing help in a moment's notice. This week, 911 dispatchers are being recognized for their service. Enlarge video

Check out an interactive feature from a few years ago about what a dispatcher's station looks like.

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As one 911 dispatcher sent officers to track down a reported mushroom hunter, another rushed paramedics to a reported medical death. Meanwhile, a third emergency dispatcher was on the phone with a caller who was complaining about someone driving across their property.

The calls were coming in and being dispatched out simultaneously Wednesday from the Douglas County Emergency Communications Center, located in a secure area of the Law Enforcement & Judicial Center, 111 E. 11th St. Whether traumatic or unusual, emergency dispatchers said they never know what to expect from people calling 911.

"It's interesting, there's never a dull moment," said Heather Lemon, a midnight shift dispatcher for the center.

Surrounded by five flat screen computer monitors, a keyboard, two computer mouses, two foot pedals, mechanical desks that move up and down, and a headset attached to their head, each dispatcher in the Douglas County Emergency Communications Center is equipped with multiple tools instrumental in dispatching emergency responders to whatever calls come in.

Dispatchers responded to 181 calls in a 10 1/2 hour period Wednesday morning. At one point, multiple 911 lines lit up as several people called to report a car crash.

The three dispatchers on duty were immediately overwhelmed, prompting shift supervisor Marjorie Hedden to step in and help answer the phones. The line she picked up wasn't about the accident, but someone reporting they'd be conducting a controlled burn.

Then with the click of a foot pedal to activate her radio, Lemon dispatched officers out to the report of a knife-wielding man.

"It is a high-stress job," said Lori Alexander, a dispatcher of more than 11 years.

The dispatchers recently received proclamations from the Lawrence City Commission and Douglas County Commission, in recognition for their service, as part of Public Safety Telecommunications Week.

Thirteen dispatchers work in split shifts around the clock to answer about 240,000 emergency 911 and other telephone calls and dispatch responders to about 200,000 calls every year. They coordinate responses and take calls for Lawrence, Eudora and Baldwin City police; Douglas County sheriff's deputies; Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical; and multiple township fire departments throughout the county.

Dispatchers are the link between people needing help and receiving help, and they boast a track record of answering 911 calls in an average of 3.4 seconds. It's a job that often goes unnoticed and has its ups and downs, dispatchers said.

"It's a hard job," said Hedden. "You have people yelling at you on the phone, you have the officers yelling at you on the street. … You can't mess up."

Hedden said the communications center is at its lowest staffing level since 1997, mostly due to burnout among dispatchers. She said the constant stress can be overwhelming for some and even cause them to make career-destroying mistakes.

But those dispatchers who’ve learned to overcome the pressure, clearly take pride in keeping the community and responders out of danger and getting them the help they need.

Comments

domino 5 years, 8 months ago

Kudos to all dispatchers! It is often an overlooked, thankless job.

somebodynew 5 years, 8 months ago

Absolutely the life line to the officers and the public. Way to go girls/guys.!!! You people just don't get enough credit when you do good all the time. X- (well a couple of numbers)

Music_Girl 5 years, 8 months ago

As having been a 911 dispatcher in the past, I know how thankless this job can be and am glad to see an article about it and see that the commissions took the time to say thank you.

redfred 5 years, 8 months ago

3 dispatchers on duty !? Most dispatch centers for communities of this size have twice this many dispatchers on duty. A minor emergency situation overwhelmed the three on duty. What happens if two or three minor situations occur at the same time or a "big one" happens? Good luck! How about some support from the commisoners to increase the staffing?

Alia Ahmed 5 years, 8 months ago

Thank you for the job you do, dispatchers.

grammaddy 5 years, 8 months ago

Thank you, thank you, thank you for all you do.

somebodynew 5 years, 8 months ago

MG - how long ago and was it here??? Just curious.

lawrenceishome 5 years, 8 months ago

somebodynew--"what do you mean YOU PEOPLE?"

heh, from a recent movie. great job everyone

Leslie Swearingen 5 years, 8 months ago

"As one 911 dispatcher sent officers to track down a reported mushroom hunter..." I didn't realize it was against the law to hunt mushrooms. Maybe one of you manly man hunters on here could clarify that.

somebodynew 5 years, 8 months ago

Well logic and irish- you would be totally shocked at what kind of calls these people deal with on a daily basis. And the majority of them are not an emergency, and some should not even be handled by them, but if the phone rings they answer and try to help.

And mushroom hunting is not against the law - however trespassing and driving on someone's property is.

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