NORTH PORT — They are there when you need them, just a phone call away.
Emergency dispatchers are the calm in the storm, the person multi-tasking you through a bad time as he or she works the other hand in sending an ambulance, patrol car or fire truck to help you.
National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week is this week. When COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, you can high-five those dispatching emergency services. For now, it will be enough to know they’re on the job.
The event dates to 1981, when a woman named Patricia Anderson with the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office in California organized time to celebrate these men and women on the other end of our phones in an emergency.
North Port’s dispatch unit is one manager, four supervisors and 11 telecommunicators. The center is staffed 24/7/365 as the public’s first, and sometimes only, point of contact with the police department, according to Misty Elmore, the department’s manager.
All Public Safety Telecommunicators are certified by completing the Florida Department of Health’s approved curriculum, which entails 240 hours of classroom and on-the-job training, as well as passing a state exam, she said.
“In total we have completed 69,119 entries in our computer-aided system, with an average time of 1:03 minutes,” said Elmore, a U.S. Navy veteran who started her career with the North Port Police Department in March 2000.
Elmore shared details of National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week and the work her team performs.
“It is held every year during the second week of April. It is a week-long celebration honoring those who dedicate their lives to serving the public. Each year we are recognized by the city commission with a National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week proclamation. This year it was canceled due to COVID-19.”
Average dispatch shift
“No day is like the other. Every 12-hour shift brings a new perspective. It’s hard to explain … but in certain terms life handles you for 12 hours, and when you clock out and head home, you slowly regain yourself. We dedicate our lives to the betterment of others.”
COVID-19 and the lockdown
“Being in such close quarters, we are constantly cleaning our areas. With that, the procedural changes that affected us are that we now have daily checks, get our temperatures taken, wear wristbands, and have closed the Telecommunication Center to all except for essential staff.”
Eye of the hurricane
“We are the calm in the chaos. Coined the ‘thin gold line’ that represents those who are rarely seen but mostly heard. The calm voice in the dark night. The glue that holds it all together. You can walk into any 911 telecommunications center worldwide and never know the chaos that is occurring behind the scenes. There is a balance within that drives us forward.”
“No question is truly strange as it relates to a particular issue with a person at that exact point in their life. I guess we deal with it and move on … as to why, I can’t immediately recall any.”
Advice to others
“Seek us out. Ask questions. Gain a better insight of our profession. Who knows, you might just find a passion you didn’t know you had.”
“No one stands alone at this job. Everyone’s success is because of who they work with and we are a solid team and hold each other in high regard. In order to do this job, we must work in unison to accomplish our main goal of citizen and officer safety.”