One of the technological advances that hugely impacted me as a police communications operator was the incorporation of the ANI/ALI system. Essentially, I could now look on a screen and get details about where the caller was calling from. This was both a blessing and a curse because I had to force myself to only use it to verify what a caller had already stated. And even more so, if a caller told me something different than what was on the screen, I had to go with what the caller said not what the computer told me. Getting addresses correct is imperative to public safety and often callers aren’t real helpful. I don’t know how many times I asked the caller to verify where they were at and they would agree with me over and over and I just knew they were not listening to what I was saying and the address I had was wrong. Recently a mistaken address (dispatch put 833 instead of 8333 for the address of a medical facility and the nurse calling agreed when the dispatcher verified it was 833), contributed to a lengthy response time in Tucson (AZ) and the subsequent death of a 10 year old girl. The act of verifying an address is one of those times a telecommunications operator must slow down and let the caller repeat the address several times. If you say the address and ask, “Is that right?” many times the caller is not listening and will agree with you. Let them say the address over and over. This is so important my former department changed the greeting from, “9-1-1, What is your emergency?” to “9-1-1, Where is your emergency?”
Hamilton County’s (TN) Misunderstanding
Slurring, non-enunciation, accents and a variety of other vocal variations make being a telecommunicator an art form. We listen to and decipher thousands of calls a year turning the often incoherent mumblings into statements of fact detailing the scene an officer is walking into. I don’t know how many times a caller has said something to me and I have spent numerous seconds running the words through my head trying to make some sort of sense of them. I try to match them up with my frame of experience. Often this is successful, but sometimes not. Unfortunately, sometimes we are wrong. In Hamilton County (TN) a man called 9-1-1 to report his house was on fire. Unfortunately, the dispatcher heard “heart” not “house” and began a medical line of questioning (which I might add did not seem to faze the caller nor make him question the operator’s understanding of his needs). Due to the misunderstanding, the house burned to the ground before fire crews arrived.
Aside from the long hours, mandatory staffing, high-stress and low recognition environment of dispatching, the fact our actions could create lawsuits is one more way being a public safety telecommunications operator is hard work. Mistakes will be made and often when I hear about the ones now in the public realm I cringe and usually remember a time when I made a similar mistake. Misunderstandings? I’ve had a few. Next month, we’ll look at lack of information and how that impacts us as well.
About The Author:
Michelle Perin has been a freelance writer since 2000. Her credits include Law Enforcement Technology, Police, Law and Order, Police Times, Beyond the Badge, Michigan State Trooper, Michigan Snowmobiler Magazine and Chief of Police. She writes two columns a month for Officer.com. Michelle worked for the Phoenix (AZ) Police Department for almost eight years. In December 2010, she earned her Master’s degree in Criminology and Criminal Justice from Indiana State University. Currently, Michelle works as the Administrative Coordinator at Jasper Mountain a residential psychiatric facility for children. In her spare time, she enjoys being the fundraising coordinator for the Lane Area Ferret Shelter & Rescue, playing her bass, working on her young adult novel Desert Ice and raising her two sons in a small town in Oregon.