October 5, 2022
Brett was asked to reply to the following questions posed by a writer from Bored Panda concerning 911 Emergency Dispatchers:
1. A psychologist I spoke to earlier mentioned that emotional and mental resilience are vital for 911 Emergency Dispatchers. What are some of the biggest challenges that Emergency Dispatchers face while on the job?
2. What kind of resources and support help Emergency Dispatchers work at their best?
3. Some people call emergency services when they aren't having any sort of real emergency, though they might be panicking, nevertheless. What should Emergency Dispatchers do in these cases?
Brett’s reply follows and the resulting article may be referenced here:
The job of a 911 Emergency Dispatcher is an emotional one due to the obvious impact of vicarious, frequent tragedy and, perhaps most overlooked, the intense pressure associated with high call volumes, prioritization of limited resources, and periods of intense multitasking. High on the list of emotional impact are cases that Emergency Dispatchers can relate to personally, i.e., the death of a child about the same age as your own child, or the death of a father—called in by the son or daughter who found him— when your own father is ill or recently deceased. As mentioned above, high-volume stressors also have a big impact on emotional well-being, especially when prolonged, as we have seen with the challenges of our recent pandemic.
Most evolved 911 agencies have Critical Incident Stress Debriefing plans and teams in place to assist Emergency Dispatchers after low-frequency, high-risk incidents, or any time the Emergency Dispatcher requests assistance. However, voluntarily seeking help is a challenge as they may see this as a weakness or an inability to cope while their teammates appear alright.
It is certainly true that many calls to 911 are not true, prehospital emergencies. In fact, the vast majority are not, and some seem downright silly. However, Emergency Dispatchers are trained to handle each one as if it were a true emergency as the caller often believes it is. Public awareness is a challenge because we do not want to discourage calls for help. In reality, this can be a problem because some callers, especially the elderly, are hesitant to call as they do not want to “bother” the paramedics, or firefighters, or police officers that they admire so much.
A common problem related to all of the above is the lack of legislative standards regarding emergency dispatcher training. Emergency dispatch in the United States is very fragmented and can vary greatly from state to state, county to county, and even town to town.
Brett A. Patterson
Academics & Standards Associate Chair, Medical Council of Standards International Academies of Emergency Dispatch®