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Nixing the Negativity in the PSAP

Author: Kelly R. Rasmussen

Copyright: 9-1-1 Magazine, Feature Content

Date: 2012-10-15
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“Why does the dispatcher need help getting through this officer down incident, he wasn’t even on the scene?” These were the words a high ranking official asked me, the 9-1-1 Director in charge of a center where an officer was shot, when my dispatcher was having extreme anxiety over the incident.

I wish I knew then what I know now. After all, my goal as a young dispatcher was to someday grow up and become a director. After getting there, I realized I was pretty limited with what I could provide to my people due to the systems in place and lack of education about the profession.

You see, there are studies out there about post-traumatic stress, and stress disorder affecting law enforcement, paramedics, firefighters, and nurses and such. There are only a handful of studies on dispatchers. Troxell (2008) and Goold (2009) published their dissertations on what stress and a negative atmosphere in the communications center can do to the individuals.

The real question is how does it start and how do I stop it from “becoming me?” I’ve asked many in the profession at all levels what we can do about it. A lot of folks say it has to change at the top. I agree. But if you have no power over changing those people, what can you do to survive?

Some TOOLS for your Toolbox

As a researcher who likes to ask lots of questions (it started young – I never grew out of it.  That’s why I became a dispatcher), I have asked a lot of people how they cope.

#1 - Overall the number one reply from those who cope fairly well is that they are involved outside of the job. They volunteer; they are involved with others who appreciate them. This provides balance! (And it reassures them that they are not losing it, and people are really okay after all).

#2 – Look around you. Literally – when you have a moment, spin around in your chair and just listen. Listen to the words others’ use and ask yourself, why? Now, imagine sitting in that chair in some other office, some other place, some other work environment, would you stay? Would you let the negative comments and words pervade your being? I compare it to a slime as it covers your entire being.

#3 – The callers and the clientele. What to do? They call you name after name and they are clueless how to help themselves. Well, they were like that many moons ago when I answered their calls; odds are they aren’t going to change for you or for the future. So, you have to remind yourself of this important thing: People come from a place of knowledge that is theirs and theirs alone. You are not them. You do not know them and you cannot and should not attempt to understand their knowledge or lack thereof. You see – as a dispatcher, you know things. You know how the world works from inside and you see a lot of ugliness and the results of the bad stuff. You understand things about the human body that people will never, ever, ever, realize. And you wretch, have nightmares, get creepy-crawlies on your skin and wonder why. 

Have you ever heard; “Ours is not to wonder why,” (Alfred Tennyson)? It basically means, if we stop and ask this or try to reason it out, we lose all sight of aid or, in his poem about a war, they die thinking about it. The point is you will go bonkers if you try to reason another person’s knowledge for doing what they do. It frustrates you and brings about the negativity and cynicism that cause us to mistrust so many others.

You see, people do not know what you know. They were not raised like you, they do not raise their kids like you raise yours, and they do not value what you value. If we can remember that, we let go of the judgment and criticism that is perpetrated on those who get in a bind and call 9-1-1 for what we call “silly stuff.”

#4 – The real stuff. Yes, the stuff like that officer down, or loss of one of our own can cripple us momentarily with big negativity.  Tragedies like the Aurora, Colorado theater shooting can make us physically sick over what we deal with behind the scenes. That is the 100% pure negative part of our jobs – and we get it.  We vow to work harder and rise to the occasion if need be. So, my question to you is, “Do we?” Or do we go back to our routines? I challenge you to kick out the negativity by changing your words each day to make new habits so you stand above the negativity.

Kelly R. Rasmussen, MS, ENP is an accomplished professional speaker and author with a background of saving lives through a career in 9-1-1 Emergency Dispatching.  During all levels of her 9-1-1 career, she was able to convince people to take action using only her words.  She now saves lives and careers in a different way; by teaching others how to use their words to communicate effectively to get the results they desire.  For more information, see


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