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Sidebar: Glacial 9-1-1: Dispatching From Antarctica

Author: John M. Eller

Copyright: 9-1-1 Magazine, Feature Content,

Date: 2014-11-30
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Originally published in our January, 2003 issue.

Profile of one Antarctica 9-1-1 Dispatcher/by John M. Eller

What does Lehigh County (PA) 9-1-1 Communications Center and McMurdo Station in Antarctica have in common?  The answer is Rhonda Ward, a 9-1-1 telecommunications operator from Lehigh County Pennsylvania, who has taken a five-month leave of absence to dispatch Fire and EMS from McMurdo Station, Antarctica's largest community.

Ward, a 38-year-old dispatcher from Slatington, PA, told reporters that she always liked cold weather.  Ward left Lehigh Valley International Airport on September 26, 2002.  Four civilian airplanes, six airports, four time zones, and one military aircraft later, she arrived in McMurdo, Antarctica.

Fortunately, she will be spending her time at Antarctica during the summer season, which means she will be basking in sunlight 24-hours-a-day.  The drawback is that temperatures are known to reach 50 degrees below zero.  The population of McMurdo increases during the summer season to approximately 1,000 persons, 75% more than the wintertime population.

Above Right: Public Safety Dispatcher Rhonda Ward in the Lehigh County (PA) 9-1-1 Center.  Below: Rhonda at work in the 9-1-1/Fire Dispatch Center at McMurdo Station, Antarctica.

According to Laurie Bailey, Lehigh County's 9-1-1 Deputy Director, the trip is a good learning experience that she feels could benefit Lehigh County in the long run.  "Her experiences in Antarctica will hone the skills she already possesses, and will be an asset to the county's 9-1-1 program upon her return."

Ward, who has over five years experience in dispatch, was chosen from a pool of over 100 applicants for the position.  She applied for the position in August 2001 and after several interviews was finally selected in June 2002.  She completed numerous physical examinations and blood tests before her departure. 

McMurdo's Mission is to provide logistical and operational support to all Antarctica continental science and science support activities.  A trouble desk is located in the firehouse and is the main point of focus at McMurdo, serving as an information and emergency dispatch center.

Although it doesn't appear that Ward will handle as many calls as she usually does at Lehigh County, but it's doubtful she'll mind.  Rhonda's experience - five months at the bottom of the globe, with plenty of snow and ice, seals, penguins - could well be the dream of a lifetime for many a dispatcher or call-taker.  

READ COMPANION STORY: Antarctica Fire: Public Safety Under Down Under by Randall D. Larson

RETURN to John M. Eller: McMurdo Dispatch Challenge story







Antarctica Fire Dispatch: Soprano Style.


Antarctica Fire Dispatch: Sunglasses On.


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