July 5, 1994 – Communications Operator I

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I walked into the building at 7am, July 5, 1994, for the first time as an employee.  Communications Operator I.  Three months of training lay ahead, and a year’s worth of probation.  The place was the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department, the room was in the basement, in a space originally designed to be a gymnasium / weight lifting room.  As of today, I’ve put in 20 years in that cramped space.

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Sometimes the universe just plays games with us

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notrafficFriday

Around 11pm on a Friday, just after a full Moon, on a winter day where the temperature hit 72 degrees that afternoon.  It’s almost scary.

You found what?? And you did what with them???

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GrenadesSometimes you really have to wonder.

Tonight we received a call on 9-1-1 from a woman who said she was in our parking lot and needed to have a deputy come out to speak to her immediately.  When asked why she needed a deputy, she said she had been clearing out her deceased mother’s residence and had discovered two hand grenades, had brought them here, and needed someone to come get them.

That of course required the local bomb squad be called out, as the initial deputies determined that they appeared to be real, live grenades.

One of the incredible things about this caller was that she was getting very upset that we were unable to get someone out to her in four minutes, so she called back wanting to know what the delay was about.  (the deputies are out on patrol, not in the building!)  We got someone out shortly thereafter, they called the bomb squad, and the grenades were disposed of by the bomb techs.  It didn’t dawn on her, apparently, that handling and transporting them was probably more dangerous than sitting in the parking lot waiting!

Sigh.

Rule of grenades (or other explosive devices) #1 – Leave them alone, and call 9-1-1!  Don’t pick them up, don’t drive them someplace in your car, and don’t get huffy with the 9-1-1 operator trying to help you!

Rule of grenades (or other explosive devices) #2 – See rule #1

Call 9-1-1 First!

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picard-facepalmIt happened again!  Someone called someone else who called someone else, who called 9-1-1!  SMH

An armed robber walked up to a food stand, brandished a firearm, and demanded cash.  The clerk didn’t understand English, and the bad guy ran off.  Rather than call 9-1-1, she called her boss, who called someone else, who called the police!

While all this was going on, an armed suspect was making his get-away, and since nobody bothered to tell anyone the description of the robber, we have no way to spot him while units are enroute.

RULE #1 – Call 9-1-1 first!  It doesn’t matter what language you speak, we can get a translator on the line quicker than you can call someone else, tell them what happened, and then have them call.

Want to piss off a dispatcher? Act like you’re the only unit on the radio!

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05162013

We have procedures officers in the field are supposed to follow on the radio.  They are designed to allow the quickest, most efficient transfer of information possible.  It really gums up the works, and creates needless stress, when radio traffic is not conducted according to those procedures.

Last night, the 4th of July, was one of those nights that will have me cursing the name of a particular unit for a long time.  Those in the know will probably figure out who I mean just from their own knowledge of the departments and personel involved, but I’m not going to name names (or unit numbers!) (even though my “about” blurb says the guilty will be hung out to dry!  It is my job, so I have to be minimally diplomatic in this rant.  I may still hear about it from upper echelons).  I’m going to hope it’s simply a training issue, and not a case of “I’m the most important thing on this radio channel, and you better be able to handle what ever I do regardless of how many other things are going on!”.

How can any unit in the field not realize that there are 20-25 units on the same radio channel, it’s a national holiday, it’s hot as hell, and their dispatch center is a small room in the basement of the jail building?  Are you not listening?  You just key up and start talking?  Really?

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Dispatching at warp speed

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Photo on 6-25-13 at 1.24 AM #2
Dispatching at warp speed. “Sub-space channels open, Captain!”

9-1-1: “Just the facts, Sir.”

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Should 9-1-1 operators kiss your ass, or save it?

IMG_2363Recent news coverage of the escape of three women from a decade long imprisonment, after their kidnappings as teens, has many people commenting on a perceived lack of empathy or concern for the victims on the part of the 9-1-1 operators in Cleveland, Ohio.  Most of the criticism is unwarranted.

Amanda Berry, the woman who escaped from the house, can be heard calling 9-1-1, here. The call by the man who assisted her, Charles Ramsey, can be heard here.  Go listen, then come back and let me give you my take on the calls.

Ok, back?  Before we begin, a reminder:  I’m a 9-1-1 dispatcher.  I’ve been employed in this position by a county Sheriff’s Department in Central California since July of 1994.  Which county is not germain, as this commentary is my personal opinion, and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of that agency.

That said, now it’s time to decide – should the 9-1-1 operator kiss your ass, or save it?

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They finally made a movie about a dispatcher. This could be bad.

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Screen Shot 2013-03-08 at 1.44.23 AM

So I’ve seen the promos at the theater.  A lot of the background looks realistic, the situation has happened before.  What I’m not to sure about is the idea that she gets involved in a call.  “This one made it personal”.  I’m hoping for the best.  It is Hollywood, so there’s no telling what will happen.  Just remember, it’s only a movie!  (unless it’s really, really good.  Then it’s exactly like our center, and we’re all heroes like Halle Berry.)

Want the picture with YOUR jurisdiction in the map background? Here.

Texting to 9-1-1 is just around the corner

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Sending text messages to 9-1-1 is something few PSAPs (Public Safety Answering Points) are ready to receive.  The ability is in the works, however, and the FCC is working with carriers and 9-1-1 centers to roll out the service beginning this year.  If you attempt to send a text message to a 9-1-1 center that is not capable of receiving it, after June 30, 2013  you will get a “bounce back” message telling you to use other means to reach 9-1-1.  Prior to June 30, you will receive no notice that your message did not go through.  Equipment upgrades and policy decisions must still be implemented in most PSAPs before they will be able to respond to text based 9-1-1 calls.  If you intend to use text messages as a way to contact 9-1-1, you should check with your local PSAP to find out when they will be able to receive and act on your message.  Until then, use voice, TTY, or relay services to reach 9-1-1.

9-1-1 Dispatchers hanging up on new A&E show, “Panic 9-1-1″

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panic-911From A&E’s community message board for their new “reality” show “Panic 911“:

A&E’s new thriller series “Panic 9-1-1” takes 911 calls to a whole new level never seen or heard before on television. Unlike emergency shows of the past, viewers will live inside the calls and experience every harrowing and terrifying moment along with the caller. Every second is real.
One part thriller and one part true-crime show, “Panic 9-1-1” features the real, urgent, unrehearsed, 911 call audio in real-time between emergency dispatchers and frantic callers as life and death situations unfold around them. Each call is a race against time where the dispatcher is the caller’s only lifeline, gathering critical information from the caller to give to first responders. When literally every second counts, getting the right details is crucial. Who lives and who dies remains a mystery until the very end.

In the real world of 9-1-1 dispatching, the verdict is in: this show sucks.

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