Andrea Brown read a job posting in the Leavenworth Times two years ago for a police department dispatcher and it struck a chord.
By RIMSIE McCONIGA
Andrea Brown read a job posting in the Leavenworth Times two years ago for a police department dispatcher and it struck a chord. She read the requirements for the position and realized she was not only qualified for the requirements and responsibilities of the job but that it was something she felt she would really like to do.
A few weeks ago, the nation celebrated National Public Safety Telecommunications Week and dispatchers all over the U.S. were honored for their hard work. And hard work is something Andrea trained for.
“They emphasized that you have to be able to multitask under stress by answering emergency and non-emergency calls, radio traffic and handling paperwork,” she said.
Dispatchers get some regular callers and Andrea says sometimes she can even recognize the regulars’ voices. While most of the 911 calls she gets are of a non-emergency nature, such as neighbors playing loud music, dogs running at large and even plenty of accidental pocket-dialed calls, local dispatchers are always prepared for the worst.
“We prioritize calls based on the nature of the situation,” says Andrea. “If the call is in progress, like a physical disturbance, that would take priority over a past theft.”
If someone is in a dangerous situation in which they can’t speak to a dispatcher after calling 911, Andrea accesses them by using the 911 text feature or she asks a question and has them push their keypad once for yes and twice for no.
“Having an open line may help give the location,” she said. “We also check the number in our system to see if we can get the possible owner’s information. If the caller speaks a different language, we have a line we can transfer to and they will translate.”
If a person doesn’t have access to GPS in a vehicle, they sometimes have difficulty explaining their exact location if they need help.
“Our focus is getting the street they are on and a cross street and if they are still not sure, we ask what they see around them,” says Andrea. “If they call 911, it might ping with their location or in close proximity to it. However, not all phones will give the location. It may only show the tower it’s pinging on. It is important to be aware of your surroundings in a vehicle or on foot.”
She says that getting the location and telephone number is of vast importance when a caller dials 911 just in case the caller gets disconnected. With the number and location dispatchers are able to send officers and attempt a callback.
“At times, you have to take control of the call and obtain pertinent information (such as) where is it occurring, what is happening, who is involved, when did this occur, how many people are involved, do you see any weapons?” Andrea says. “Some people will give you information that can be irrelevant.”
When children are involved, Andrea says it can be difficult depending on the situation. But dispatchers always prioritize calls in accordance to the nature and severity of the call.
One common occurrence for dispatchers in the area is that they receive calls from people in Leavenworth, Washington, because the first listing on Google for Leavenworth Police Department is the one in Kansas.
For Andrea, the biggest challenge in her line of work is multitasking.
“It is difficult to listen to multiple people talk at the same time and obtain information from them,” she said.
After an emergency call, dispatchers are not allowed to give any information to the public about the caller or the nature of the call and many times they don’t know how the emergency situations turn out.
“Sometimes we are able to look back into the call record and see what the notes say if the officer was able to update them,” says Andrea.
The opportunity to work with what Andrea describes as an excellent police force and firefighters makes the stressful situations well worth it.
“Not everyone can handle the stress of a dispatcher,” she said. “It helps tremendously having a partner there to assist you with whatever you need to continue working efficiently. Sometimes it can be difficult. I cannot speak for all dispatchers but after I get off work, I do not want to be bothered.”
She believes that dispatchers must have great communication and customer service skills while being great listeners and empathetic. And they must also remain calm in stressful situations, be confident and practice good judgment. If a caller is very scared or stressed, Andrea encourages them to take a deep breath. She uses their name frequently and continually reassures them that help is on the way.
“It is a pleasure working with the Leavenworth Police Department,” says Andrea. “I am very thankful for the officers, firefighters, dispatchers and admin staff I get to work with every day. What I like best about my job is not only helping people but also aiding the officers and firefighters. It is self-satisfying knowing I helped them in a tough situation.”