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What if there was no 9-1-1? - Recruitment & Training for the REAL Job

Author: Kelly R. Rasmussen, PhD

Date: 2015-08-03
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In a recent NBC news report, it was noted that the Albuquerque Dispatcher who hung up on the 9-1-1 caller because she swore at him has resigned. Chris Carver of National Emergency Number Association (NENA) stated that "hiring the right people can sometimes be more important than training." 

While I agree there needs to be a more rigorous selection process for emergency dispatchers, there needs to be up-front training that informs the individual about the occupation they are entering. Too many times as a 9-1-1 Director I would see people answer the interview questions "can you work weekends, holidays, overtime, etc" with a resounding "YES." At first, anyone who thinks the job is solely answering a phone and dispatching units will obviously say "yes."

There is an almost secret culture that you must fit into. You must realize that working all of that overtime and those holidays is not a myth or a test question. You give up family time. You sacrifice "normality" and most of all, you become jaded. The sinister truth about emergency dispatchers is that none of them signed up to become "like that" - "that" being the kind of dispatcher written about in news reports like the one in Albuquerque, immersed in the negativity, the callousness, and the complacency.

At the 9114 9-1-1 conference in Chicago this September 17 & 18, real, live dispatchers will get up on stage and talk about overcoming "that." They attest to what it is really like to miss your kids' events, and sacrifice Christmas, and work dozens of hours of overtime. They tell how they survived and how they keep going. They talk about the stressors of the horrific, critical, unimaginable calls and they speak to the survival of carrying around all of that gore. The memories eventually fade, but they never make sense. So, at this conference, everyone has permission to share, talk, tell it like it is, and learn how to overcome, before reaching a breaking point like the dispatcher in Albuquerque. 

I'm not making excuses for him. As an expert witness, I would also be scouring his training and history of call intake. So, yes, the job is stressful (that word is hardly sufficient) and yes, there is a lot of discussion about PTSD and other debilitating suffering that emergency dispatchers endure. The real question Mr. Carver should be asking, is: do people understand fully what they are signing up for? And how are they prepared on the front end? Why are we only now, some  47 years after 9-1-1 was born, beginning to research these courageous heroes left unattended? 

We need more attention, more training, more assurance, more accolades for these heroes that everyone seems to want to throw away like a fast food wrapper. These are amazing individuals who hold lives (and deaths) in their heads, their hands, and their hearts forever. 

Let's build better dispatchers and pay attention before they have that breakdown. 


Kelly R. Rasmussen, PhD of Success Communications Inc. has been with the 9-1-1 Industry since 1986. She began her career as a dispatcher and worked her way up through the ranks to Director. She left her position of Director in 2007 in order to follow her passion of giving back to the industry by researching, training, consulting and speaking.  While working the crazy hours that come along with a 24/7/365 job, Dr. Rasmussen went back to school and earned her Associates Degree, Bachelor Degree and Masters Degree in Communications as well as her ENP (Emergency Number Professional) certification. She completed her PhD in Public Safety with an emphasis on Leadership, in 2014. She now also serves as an expert witness on 9-1-1 cases.   

Dr. Rasmussen is also an author whose first book, "9-1-1, Who Will Answer Your Call?" has been picked up by a New York publisher and has been published under the new name, "Call 911, True Stories from My Life in Emergency Dispatch". To obtain your copy of the original book (not toned down for a "family" audience), click HERE. This book is currently being used by Baker College as a text book for their Criminal Justice program.

This article was originally posted on Ms. Rasmussen's Linked-In Page, and is reprinted here by her permission.


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