Do you have what it takes to work as a 911 dispatcher? Maybe you do: after all, it’s a role that few people outside the industry know much about. And the insider information on this emergency services gig is pretty astonishing. From secret answering systems to intriguing lie detecting hacks, here is pretty much everything you could possibly wish to know about the noble and nerve-racking job of being a 911 operator.
20. They have tricks to keep people cool
It should come as no surprise that keeping a caller calm is one of the most important aspects of this job. In the sheer rush and panic of having to make a 911 call, most callers spiral into an absolute frenzy; all too often, the person will be in tears or practically screaming down the line. To combat this, dispatchers decrease the speed of their talking in order to soothe the caller. What’s more, they also sharpen callers’ attention by requesting that they perform little tasks.
19. The job comes with its share of guilt
Emergency dispatchers don’t necessarily go home each day glowing with a sense of pride at a job well done. Like most of us, they may hang on to the things that went wrong – which in their case can be very dark. Whether it’s inadvertently sending an officer to his or her death or failing to prevent a caller from committing suicide, 911 operators’ experiences can haunt them throughout their lives. And they may have to get up the next day and continue doing their job while the memory of the tragedy lingers.
18. They’re skilled at handling many things at once
Expert multitasking is a skill that every emergency operator must possess. While talking to a stream of callers on the phone throughout the day, for example, they also need to alertly listen in on what’s going on in the background in their own workplace. With little or no notice, their advice and knowledge could suddenly be desperately needed by someone else on the team, which means that they have to be ready to dispense it – even if they’re otherwise engaged.
17. Some dispatchers are more than dispatchers
Few kids grow up dreaming of one day working as a 911 dispatcher. Perhaps this explains why so many operators actually work in other fields during their spare time. Indeed, whether they’re actors, painters or reporters, those with creative or media careers or with such aspirations have been known to take on 911 operator jobs as they provide secure incomes. Emergency operators earn approximately $36,300 a year – which means that these roles can support artists while they continue pursuing their dreams.
16. 911 operators know when you’re lying
Time wasters and crank calls are a serious issue for 911 operators. In addition, some callers will lie about how dire their needs are in hopes of getting the cops to show up more quickly than they would have otherwise. That’s why dispatchers need to essentially act as intuitive lie detectors when they field calls. They judge everything – from a caller’s intonation to what they say – assessing whether or not they are telling the truth!
15. You don’t need a university education to be a dispatcher
Despite what you may have thought, 911 operators don’t need to have gone to college to get into this line of work. That’s not to say that the application process isn’t gruelingly difficult, though. Each applicant must be able to type 60 words a minute, have the ultimate stamina and be able to cope in otherwise ridiculously stressful moments. Furthermore. they will also be put to the test with 40 hours of training and up to a year and a half of further prep in the field.
14. They are the eyes and ears of a crime scene
Before an investigator or officer even steps onto the scene of a crime, they already have a whole lot of information. That’s because 911 dispatchers have a duty to share all the details they can with any officer they send out on a job. For example, they will tell them the amount of people that allegedly collaborated on the crime, which way the suspects went and whether they were armed when they left.
13. Their priority is to find out where the crime happened
In a blockbuster action movie, we often hear dispatchers answering 911 calls by asking “911, what’s your emergency?” However, this is a bit of a fallacy. The very first thing operators need to know is not what, but where the emergency is taking place. Once they have the location, they will also need to know the caller’s phone number so they can get back in touch in case of a dropped call. After they have these two crucial pieces of information, then, they can get down to business and find out more about the emergency.
12. Calls from children can be harrowing
In general, dispatchers have pretty thick skin, but there is one thing that jars even the most stable of emergency workers: when kids call 911, the reason can sometimes be extremely difficult to absorb. Indeed, whether they are reporting pain or mortal danger, these children’s calls are some of the most emotionally and mentally challenging parts of the job. Nevertheless, if the call is too harrowing, the dispatchers have a chance to talk to a therapist about it to help them cope with the trauma.
11. 911 is for emergencies – not meeting a mate!
We all have love life woes, but calling 911 for a hot date is so not the way to deal with the problem. It may surprise some to learn that this really does happen. And as if this weren’t bad enough, desperate singletons will also call up and ask about a hot cop they spotted somewhere. What they fail to realize is that in wasting the dispatcher’s time on the phone, they are preventing people who seriously need emergency services from getting through.
10. Working with trauma can erode their mental health
It would be nigh-on impossible to work in a stressful and often traumatic role such as that of a 911 responder without it messing with one’s mind and nerves. In some cases, then, dispatchers end up with critical incident stress syndrome (CISS) – a mental ailment much like PTSD. This is common among people who are continuously involved in life-and-death situations and ultimately can manifest itself in the form of panic attacks and nightmares.
9. Land lines are more useful than cell phones for 911 calls
Nowadays, most people use cell phones or smartphones for just about every call they make. Perhaps unbeknownst to them, though, when it comes to emergency services it’s way more efficient and effective to call from a land line. This is because a call from a home phone will go through to a local hub, which means more immediate access to a nearby officer than a call that pings to the closest cell beacon.
8. Callers don’t actually need to utter a word
This is something that most people have absolutely no clue about, but they really should! When someone calls 911, they don’t have to say anything at all. In fact, there are times when callers are not able to talk to the operator because they are in extreme danger. If this happens, there is a system in place through which callers can respond by pressing numbers and symbols on their phone keypads instead of talking.
7. Dispatchers can become emotionally involved in calls
It may seem as though 911 operators can coolly remove themselves from the grim reality of the calls they answer, but that’s easier said than done. When a caller is in their hour of need, the operator is the only one that can help them – their final lifeline. Indeed, the responsibility is solely on their shoulders, which means that it can be hard for them to disconnect from the situation – whether it’s blood-curdling shrieks or a burglar in someone’s home.
6. They intentionally speak in a dispassionate voice
Anyone unlucky enough to have had to call 911 may have been faced with something – or someone – a bit off-putting on the other end of the line. The emergency responder may have sounded unduly cold and disengaged – especially considering the intense circumstances. The reality is that operators are told to sound “calm,” which can sometimes translate into “dispassionate.” But rest assured, it does not mean that they like speaking this way and it certainly doesn’t convey how they are feeling on the inside.
5. Don’t put down that phone!
If you unintentionally call 911, you need to communicate your error to the dispatcher. Simply hanging up – even before they respond to the call – will not cut it for one very important reason: operators are required to return that call straight away! Unless you want to squander a 911 dispatcher’s time, then, calling 911 unintentionally and then putting down the phone is a major no-no.
4. Operators are not stalling with their questions
While a 911 caller may feel like they’re answering needless question after needless question, this is simply not the case. Everything the operator asks a caller has a reason behind it. Indeed, while it may seem as though they are being picky about all the minute details of the case, they literally need all that information – from the precise street name to the right number – so that they can send the right help to the correct location as quickly as possible.
3. Emergency operators can be quite superstitious
As this is one of the most practical jobs in the world, it may be pretty shocking to discover that many 911 phone operators are actually fairly superstitious. They will rarely admit that they’re having a “quiet” shift, for fear that suddenly all the phones will start buzzing and it will turn into the shift from hell. Instead, they may use the words “serene” or perhaps “tranquil.”
2. There is often a flurry of calls after a big sporting event
Heart attacks or home runs? It turns out that some people are more concerned with watching the game than calling 911 to deal with their medical emergency. After a large-scale sports event, like the Super Bowl, emergency call centers are often flooded with requests for assistance. Heart attacks are not an uncommon emergency for such callers. But, rather than calling 911 as soon as they feel the pangs in their arm and chest, sports fans will wait for the final whistle to sound.
1. Some 911 calls aren’t traumatic – but joyous!
We’ve covered how utterly traumatizing the job of a 911 operator can be, but it’s worth noting that this is not always the case. When emergency dispatchers get a call about a baby being born or the like, for example, it can be a really joyous occasion. Playing their small role in the miracle of life is one of the most fulfilling experiences, and it’s events like these that make all the hard days worth it!