Chances are that when you see a fire truck, ambulance or squad car responding to an emergency with flashing lights and sirens, it is doing so with the guidance and expertise of a 911 dispatcher, after having received a 911 phone call from someone in need.
For many of us, the use of dialing 911 to report emergencies has been available for almost as long as we can remember. According to the Federal Communications Commission, over 98 percent of locations in the U.S. and Canada have 911 coverage.
Using 911 will connect a caller to an emergency dispatch office where well-trained dispatchers will obtain the information critical to sending out the appropriate emergency resources. In other parts of the world, 911 is also used in the Philippines, but places like Bangladesh, Singapore and the United Kingdom use the emergency number of 999, whereas Australia relies on 000.
It was in 1968 when the FCC and AT&T worked together to establish the beginnings of the current 911 system as we know it. Five years later, the White House’s Office of Telecommunications issued a policy for the implementation of 911 as the sole means of reporting emergencies nationwide.
Locally, the Carver County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) staffs and operates the 911 Center — also referred to as the Public Safety Answering Point — for all residents of Carver County. The 911 Center is located in the lower level of the Sheriff’s Office at the Carver County Government Center in Chaska.
Currently in the CCSO 911 Center, there are 15 full-time dispatchers, a warrant specialist, a radio system administrator, two emergency communications supervisors and a communications services manager.
Like many of the deputies in the Sheriff’s Office, most dispatchers work 12-hour shifts. The dispatchers handle all county related calls, in addition to those involving the Chaska Police Department. In 2017, Carver County Dispatchers handled a total of 90,690 incoming phone calls, of which 25,100 were 911 related. On average, that’s 247 incoming phone calls per day.
Dispatchers play a vital role in getting the right emergency services to the right place in a timely fashion. When a 911 call arrives, it is up to the dispatcher, through extensive training, to collect the most pertinent information quickly and efficiently, and then, with a complex state-of-the-art computer aided dispatching software and a multi-channel radio system, send out the appropriate resources.
Dispatchers must process law enforcement, fire, and medical related calls, all while remaining calm and obtaining necessary information from callers who are often hysterical in traumatic incidents.
When our dispatchers are not answering incoming phone calls or assisting emergency personnel, they still have many tasks to complete. Dispatchers spend time entering all types of data into various computer systems. They process and enter bench warrant and stolen property information into a national criminal justice computer system, assist officers from countless other agencies in and outside of Minnesota in locating Carver County-related information for its investigations, and much more. Dispatchers might also be the ones giving callers medical instructions for delivering a baby or aiding a heart attack victim prior to any arrivals of police or ambulances.
Dispatching takes a special type of person, with the proper training, to be effective in their roles. Dispatchers must be expert multi-taskers, and do so calmly. A dispatcher is literally the lifeline for police, fire departments and medical services when they are responding to emergencies.
Dispatchers must be thorough in asking the proper questions in each type of emergency in order to keep responding personnel from entering a dangerous situation. With the right information, first responders can keep from arriving “blind” to the scene of an emergency where numerous types of life-threatening risks might be present. It’s critical that emergency personnel have as much information as possible, often in extremely high-stress situations, and dispatchers are the critical link in insuring this.
Talk to any paramedic, law enforcement officer or firefighter, and each will likely tell you their jobs are made tremendously easier by the assistance of a dispatcher.