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9-1-1 Magazine: Managing Emergency Communications

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Spinning, Spinning, Spinning

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Originally Published in our July/August, 1999 issue.

It was just over a year ago, in response to the schoolyard shootings in Jonesboro, Arkansas, that I asked writer Nancy Rigg to take a look at the effect of these kinds of incidents upon public safety responders and communicators for our July/August 1998 issue.  The article had barely been drafted when another school shooting happened in Springfield, Oregon.  The following issue, Kevin Willett covered workplace violence and its effect on the public safety and 9-1-1 community.

And now this same community is reeling from an even more incomprehensible act of rage perpetrated against children in school, this one on the grounds of Columbine High School in suburban Littleton, Colorado.

All of us in dispatch are awed by the challenges that faced the Colorado telecommunicators as they did their jobs and began the process of help and healing for the communities of Littleton and Jefferson County. 

And as crime perpetuates crime and the darkness that exists in so many young souls prepared no doubt to writhe into another tragedy someday yet to come, we grieve for Jefferson County, we pray for our own children, and as we wonder just how recklessly this world is spinning out of control, we vow to remain mentally and emotionally prepared when it happens – as it surely will, someday – in our own communities. And we vow to offer support, kindness, and healing to the victims – the direct victims as well as the indirect victims, and thanks to the intimate immediately of television news we have all become emotional victims of this senseless tragedy.

I’d already assigned this issue’s story on grief counseling when dispatchers in nearby Oakland, California faced two back-to-back line-of-duty deaths last January, and OPD dispatcher Marc Liggin asked to put his thoughts about them into an article.  Then John Eller offered us his article about the death of a Chester, Pennsylvania police officer and the dispatcher who heard her last words.  The grim process of grief can be remarkably healing, so it seemed appropriate to complement these stories of Line-of-Duty-Deaths with a profile of people who allow us to process through the grief to a place of healing and closure.

Then, just a month before deadline, came the awful events of Columbine, followed by a new tragedy upon the face of Oklahoma in the form of a devastating tornado that laid waste to Midwest City, all of which severely challenged the dispatchers in those jurisdictions.

We didn’t plan this issue to cover as many depressing stories as it does, but perhaps by focusing our attention for a few moments on the very real effect of events like these upon the public safety personnel who must handle them perfectly when they do occur. We may glean some understanding that will benefit us when the darkness crawls into our own jurisdiction and we’re the ones answering the frantic phone calls and urgent radio transmissions.  Those of us who watched and wept can learn much from the experiences in Jefferson County, in Midwest City, in Chester, PA, and in Oakland.

Access to Critical Incident Stress Management and Debriefing programs are essential for a dispatcher’s well-being – fortunately, forward-thinking managers in Jefferson County made sure the dispatchers who handled those horrendous events at Columbine High were offered CISD support once the incident was over.

Our hearts go out and our hats come off to the men and women of Jefferson County’s emergency communications and response community, and we dedicate this issue to your well-being.  Thanks for taking care of your community.

Be well.



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