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Book: The History of Public Safety Dispatching in America - an Exclusive Interview with Author Diana Sprain

Author: Randall D. Larson

Copyright: 9-1-1 Magazine, Feature Content

Date: 2015-10-29
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The History of Public Safety Dispatching in America - This new book by Diana Sprain, a public safety dispatcher, trainer and supervisor with over 25 years’ experience, provides a comprehensive but informally written history of the public safety dispatching profession from the foundations of public safety response and the early days of radio communications in the 1920s to the modern, high-tech and certified profession it has become. There are sections on dispatcher standards, what lessons the profession has learned from its experience on major events and disasters, the boost in dispatcher recognition brought about by TV’s RESCUE 911 (Diana interviews its producer, Arnold Shapiro) and other reality shows, how new technology continues to benefit (and challenge!) the dispatcher behind the console, how associations like NENA and APCO and publications (including 9-1-1 Magazine!) have benefitted the professionalism of the trade, and so on.  It’s a fascinating read, filled with facts, details, and trivia, which will surely interest telecommunicators, responders, and other readers interested in emergency public safety communications.

9-1-1 Magazine spoke to Diana about her book, its origins and objectives, and what she hopes readers will get out of it:


Q: What inspired you to write this book?

Diana Sprain: Many of the people I have trained over the years asked questions that I didn’t know the answers to. When I went to research the information, I was unable to find a book that could provide background data on our profession. The few dispatching books were either war-stories, personal memoirs, or textbooks on specific subjects (EMD, stress). I wondered why I could find books on law enforcement, fire, and EMS, but not on dispatching when we are a vital part of all three branches. It became a dream of mine to write such a book.


Q: What did you want to accomplish with this book?

Diana Sprain: To bring legitimacy to our profession and show that we, Public Safety Telecommunicators, have been around for a very long time and we’re an integral part of Public Safety. I wanted to show what has happened to dispatching from the beginning of radio to today’s NG911. I hope the book will get picked up by dispatch academies as a reference.


Q: What kind of research was necessary to create such a thorough and comprehensive book?

Diana Sprain: To validate the old stories and rumors, I had to read through a mile-high stack of old reports and journals. I queried folks in the industry and dug up old books, many of which were out of print. The interview with RESCUE 9-1-1’s Arnold Shapiro was a result of a month of back & forth calls & emails. So many of the ‘whys’ of what we do are based in obscurity and the internet tends to perpetuate myths. I only included facts that I was able to validate via legitimate sources. I had a survey running on my web site for the first year to try and get general information on dispatching from dispatchers. I included the results of the survey with my thoughts in the last chapter.

Q: How long did it take you to write and edit the book?

Diana Sprain: It took me about four years to research and write the book and a year to do editing, as I did most of this on my days off (and alternated with working on my fictional series). Part of the time included locating references used.


Q: What led you to self-publish the book?

I wanted to go with a traditional publisher. Those that responded told me the subject matter was too limited for the target audience; the same went with agents. If I had waited, the book would not have been published for another three years.


Q: What was the biggest challenge in creating this book?

With self-publishing, writers have all of the control over their writing but they also have to do all of the hard work. This includes the formatting. Learning how to set type and margins, correct fonts, and make it all look nice took time. I went through a dozen drafts before the presentation looked right. The other challenge was getting personal responses to queries from people in the field. Many folks did get back to me with answers or information but many others didn’t. Cooperation can’t be forced. Reading the countless reports was tedious when I was looking for a specific reference to an event or regulation. A majority of the old books or journals were difficult to find in print. I didn’t want to rely on online versions when I discovered many had been edited. I’ve kept the references and my husband complains about the stacks taking up space in our library (I’ll dispose of them when he thins out his collection of home improvement magazines – what’s fair is fair!).


Q: How do you hope the book will be received by public safety dispatchers?  By the general public? 

It is my wish that Public Safety Telecommunicators embrace the book and learn about their history. Ask any firefighter or law enforcement officer and chances he or she can discuss some part of history but can a dispatcher do the same? How many dispatchers know about the first 9-1-1 call or who Reginald Fessenden is? We should be proud of how our profession has evolved from the days of one-way communications and call-boxes. I hope the book inspires more dispatchers to become involved outside of their immediate job, by becoming members of APCO or NENA. The general public knows how to use 9-1-1 but I’d like them to understand our job and maybe high school students will go to counselors and say “I want to be a Public Safety Telecommunicator”. That would be cool.


For more information on books relative to public safety dispatch and emergency services communications, see our BOOKS page.

Diana Sprain's The History of Public Safety Dispatching in America is avaialble from  Diana is also the author of the fictional fantasy series, Greycliff Chronicles. For more information, see 


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