“911, What is the address of your emergency?”
For Douglas County 911 dispatchers, these are the words they may say more than 100 times a day in an effort to help those in need.
Employees who work at the 911 Center for Douglas and Alpine counties can tell you it isn’t a job for everyone. The demand requires the ability to make quick and accurate decisions because people are depending on them for their safety.
There are 19 employees who work five eight-hour shifts that rotate; two and up to five people are on the floor depending on the time and day. They answer calls for about 52,000 people and eight agencies in Douglas County and Alpine County.
One of the things that makes the job difficult is all the information a dispatcher has to know on hand.
“As a dispatcher you have to be able to remember or recall many things such as different agencies’ policies and procedures and jurisdictional lines and businesses,” said Ron Sagen, Douglas County 911 emergency services manager. “There is a massive amount of knowledge we have to have catalogued away.”
Another thing that makes the job stressful is that a dispatcher cannot make a mistake.
“At other jobs if a person makes a mistake, it might get caught and get fixed,” Sagen said. “With the critical nature of our job, if we make mistakes, people can get hurt or worse. There have been studies that compared dispatching to air traffic control.”
According to Sagen, the statistics really vary depending on the time of year.
“We can have more than a hundred emergency calls a day during the summertime and more during the winter months while the ski slopes are open. There is no longer a true busiest time, however, any time you involve a holiday where people are outdoors being active, and in most cases, increased consumption of alcohol, it’s going to be busier,” Sagen said.
With the job, there will be days where they are taking call after call and then there are some days where they are getting no calls for an hour or so, and have to be “at the ready.”
“One of the most important things that we want people to realize is that even though it might seem like we are asking a lot of questions, it’s necessary,” Sagen said. “Callers need to understand that another person is going to be coming to help. The dispatcher is not going to be the one that is getting into the ambulance or patrol car. They (the emergency responders) need all the information they can to help the person as quickly as they can.”
Knowing that it is an emergency situation, the 911 staff is trained to understand that everyone handles stress differently. They are taught calming techniques such as using a calm voice to help the person on the other end of the line.
Dispatching is one of the many important positions and departments provided by Douglas County. Calling 911 is something many of us hope we never to have to do. We are fortunate to have the amazing men and women working in this profession and we thank them for the amazing work they do.