When you call 911 or a first responder calls in on the radio, a Public Safety Telecommunicator, -- or as we call them, a dispatcher -- is the person on the other end of the phone or microphone. In large organizations, the telecommunications functions are often distributed among several people. They have people dedicated to answering the 911 calls while others are tracking the responders in the field, and others may be running computer checks for warrants, driver’s licenses and vehicle registrations.
In Port Aransas, a single person is responsible for all these activities -- not only for the police department, but the same dispatcher also handles all the calls for the fire department and emergency medical service … often simultaneously.
On major calls or when the island is busy, it is a daunting task.
For those of you not familiar with the cop culture, I will tell you that there is a love-hate relationship between cops and dispatchers. Being a dispatcher is probably the worst job there is in public safety. The pressure is unbelievable. They are the lifeline between the public and the first responders, and usually are the only safety net the cops have while on the streets.
They not only must calm often-hysterical callers and determine what resources (police, fire and/or EMS) to send. They also are responsible for determining where to send them and how many of each resource has to be sent. But, in the eyes of the responders, the dispatchers never get enough information.
However, when citizens call 911, they may be frustrated by all the questions they are asked by the dispatcher. In an emergency, the dispatcher will start a responder while they are still on the phone with the caller. The dispatcher is just trying to verify that they have enough of the right resources en route.
Conversely, the responders get frustrated with the dispatchers because they often have limited information about the call. Of course the dispatchers are also frustrated because they are doing the best they can to insure the appropriate response.
Being a dispatcher can be a thankless job, but in 1991, the U.S. House of Representatives passed House Joint Resolution
284 to create “National Public Safety Telecommunicator Week” during the second week of April. The resolution was passed again in 1993 and 1994 and became a permanent recognition. It serves as a reminder for those of us in the public safety sector to stop and say thank you for taking care of us and the public.
Ultimately, we can’t help you if we can’t find you. Our dispatchers are trained to ask specific questions. They ask them for a reason. When you call 911, stay on the line and help us help you.
One of the easiest things you can do is have your address number affixed to your house. It may help us find you faster, it is the law, and you might even help maintain harmony in the cop shop.
Scott Burroughs is the chief of the Port Aransas Police Department. Contact him at sburrou firstname.lastname@example.org or at 749-6241.