Stress Adaptation

Heather Darata

Heather Darata

Blast From The Past
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When you hear the word “stress,” do you start to feel stressed yourself? It’s easy to think of all stress in a negative way. Phone calls flooded the center for hours after a tornado came through, the last caller was rude, the comm. center is short staffed today, etc.

Topics like staffing, recruitment, and retention bring needed attention to the emergency dispatch profession’s current challenges. According to a study jointly conducted this past year by the IAED and the National Association of State 911 Administrators (NASNA), nearly one-third of the 774 emergency dispatch centers in 47 states across the U.S. that responded to the survey reported stunning vacancy rates in 2022.¹ Vacancy rates of 30% or more were reported by 271 centers. Out of the 271 centers, 92 reported at least a 50% vacancy rate, and 13 reported that 70% or more of their positions were unfilled.

Staffing, recruitment, and retention are serious topics that need attention and solutions. However, not all of the stress we encounter is negative. Leanne Hannon talks about how stress can help us to achieve peak performance in her article “Stress Adaptation in Dispatch” found in the Winter 1991 issue of Emergency Medical Dispatch! (precursor to today’s Journal of Emergency Dispatch). The way each of us channels stress determines if it will be a positive or negative experience (eustress vs. distress).

Think about a call you are proud of the way you handled. Did it come at a really busy time when there was a lot going on in the emergency dispatch center? Was the caller very upset? Was it one of the more challenging days in your career? Did it take a lot of encouragement and patience to get the caller to follow the Post-Dispatch Instructions or Pre-Arrival Instructions you provided? Did you give the best customer service you could, even if the outcome wasn’t what you hoped for?

If unmanaged, stress can lead to burnout. You play a vital role in the overall Chain of Survival. We need you. We need you calm and focused. Before stress takes its toll on you, read Leanne's early but seminal article to learn more about how we physically respond to stress, examples of positive stress, the difference between eustress and distress, and controlling stress. 

1. “More Than Half of U.S. 911 Centers Are Facing Their Own Emergency.” International Academies of Emergency Dispatch. 2023; Feb. 28. emergencydispatch.org/in-the-news/press-releases/64632133-7f9f-4d77-8013-d59c445fdb88 (accessed July 21, 2023).