I answer 911 calls and non-emergency calls for a consolidated dispatching center. I also dispatch emergency personnel for the local fire department, ambulance services, and three different law enforcement agencies. I've been doing this for over 11 years.

EDIT: Thank you all very much for the interest. I have to go get some sleep for my overtime grave yard shift tonight. Thank you all for the great questions! I apologize for those questions that I didn't get to answer. Be safe!

Comments: 2134 • Responses: 61  • Date: 

mrsmiller1218101123 karma

My very first solo 911 call after being signed off as a call taker. It was a prowler call and the female caller was hiding in her closet and I could hear the person inside her house, in the background. I had no experience in keeping people calm but I tried my best.

lethargicwalrus612 karma

What ended up happening to the woman?

mrsmiller1218101140 karma

She stayed in her closet until the officer's got there. They cleared the house, found the guy in a shed in the backyard, arrested him and she was fine.

PaulClavet1013 karma


mrsmiller121810751 karma

You're welcome! Thanks for the thanks! We don't hear it enough. I have my officer's backs every single time I send them to call. We are trained to thoroughly check every location for premise history and every person the officer's are going to contact, for wants and priors. It's my job to be the eyes for what you can't see until you get there. :-)

Atrid13650 karma

Have you ever gotten a call and the person on the other end died mid call?

mrsmiller1218101096 karma

Yes. Caller stated their house was on fire and they were trying to make it outside. They set the phone down, or dropped it and then ended up getting stuck inside the house while it burned down around them. One of my worst calls ever.

5b3ll370 karma

God, that gave me chills. Did you talk to anyone about it afterwards?

mrsmiller121810760 karma

Yes, talked to my co-workers about it and one supervisor who wasn't working that shift. It bothered me for weeks. Still to this day, whenever I take a house fire call from an elderly person, I half expect to relive this call again. :-(

degeneraded302 karma

Do you guys get mandatory counseling or time off when you take an awful call like that?

mrsmiller121810434 karma

No. We can ask for the counseling if we want it but we do not get time off.

back2thafuture591 karma

What sort of training did you have to go through?

mrsmiller1218101207 karma

When I first got hired I had a 2 week "academy" at the dispatch center. It's taught by admin and dispatchers. Then I was placed with a certified training officer/dispatcher for about 6-8 weeks while being taught how to be a call taker. After that I moved on to several different radios and after about 18 months I had learned and been signed off on two radios and call taking. After you are there for a year, you get sent to the state dispatching training course which is 3 weeks long and for me, it was pretty much a review of what I had already learned.

NikkoE82463 karma

1) How many calls have you had from little kids not understanding the concept of 911?

2) How often do you get people calling 911 on accident?

mrsmiller121810599 karma

  1. In my 11 years, I've taken several calls from kids, mainly those who understand the concept of 911 but just prank call it. I explain the importance of using 911 correctly to them and then I talk to their parents which usually makes them stop calling.
  2. People call 911 on accident more times than I can count on both hands, during one 12 hour shift. Especially people with cell phones who don't have screen locking abilities.

mareksoon174 karma


dmurray14449 karma

I'll try this one, as I have a company that does phone system installations. One of our clients recently had an issue where someone was dialing 911, and they couldn't figure out who it was. The dispatchers ended up calling back the main number and telling them they had been receiving calls fairly often. They were very helpful and provided dates and times of the calls, which we used to check the logs and eventually security camera footage. Turns out it was someone from outside the company that was there every week, using a common room phone trying to dial out with a 9 (and somehow screwing up the double "1" each time).

For this reason, we ALWAYS use 8 as the external number prefix. That also allows us to route the actual "911" calls out without requiring someone to dial "9 911" or "8 911", which visitors or folks not familiar with the phone system may not know.

mrsmiller121810341 karma

I sincerely appreciate this. 8 is an amazing number. :-)

mrsmiller121810182 karma

No, we usually call back and ask to speak to a supervisor or someone in charge just to confirm there is no emergency. If we call back and we don't reach anyone, then we dispatch officer's there.

lethargicwalrus78 karma

Do you get angry, or just calmly talk to them?

mrsmiller121810164 karma

It really depends on how busy it is at the time and what exactly they're saying. It also depends on if it's their first call of the night or if they are a frequent flyer.

rypedia245 karma

Not to attempt to hijack this AMA, but I'd like to point out that in my experience as a 9-1-1 dispatcher, kids make some of the best callers. They are typically highly cooperative, provide great information, and are eager to help.

mrsmiller121810562 karma

Kids do make some of the best callers! I listened to a tape once during a training course of a 4 year old girl that was able to tell the dispatcher that her dad shot her mom, gave his clothing description, vehicle description and that she thought he was going to his cousin's house. Police were able to catch him while driving, murder weapon still in hand. The little girl is like 13 now and doesn't remember any of it. Still gives me the chills.

Molecular_Machine104 karma

In an actual emergency? That's interesting; I'd think that they would panic. Can you give any examples?

mrsmiller121810319 karma

Kids are very literal. Even in emergency situations, they can focus and answer questions very well. They give excellent details on descriptions. I think it may have a lot to do with the fact that they are in the learning process still and they are getting the chance to show someone how smart they are. For example: Dispatcher: "What color shirt did he have on?" Kid: "Well, I think it was the color......green, yeah green!"

meckinville455 karma

is there anything you'd like people to know about placing 911 calls that could be helpful but most people aren't aware of?

mrsmiller121810670 karma

Oh my god, yes! When you call 911 on a cell phone, we do not know exactly where you are. You have to be able to give us an address or an intersection or general area so we can send you help. Also, if you are going to carry your cell phone in your pocket, please lock it. We get so many butt dials per shift that it is ridiculous.

lilyrabbit372 karma

What's the weirdest/strangest call from someone you have ever got?

mrsmiller121810739 karma

Well there are a lot of crazy people out there and some of them only know how to dial 911. I'd have to say the strangest call I've taken was from a male subject who was citing verses from the bible and making claims about aliens and such. Which in any normal circumstance, this would be weird but he sounded so sane. I mean, his speech was impeccable, he didn't stutter, didn't sound drunk, didn't really sound all that crazy. He even paused to let me respond to things he was saying, which isn't normally the case with crazy people.

lethargicwalrus339 karma

Do you ever get homeless people calling?

mrsmiller121810687 karma

Every. Single. Day.

[deleted]320 karma

Have you ever had a call from someone you knew or found out later that you knew them? I know some EMTs/Firefighters don't like to work in the same town they live so they won't respond to an emergency of someone they know. Do 911 operators do this too?

mrsmiller121810508 karma

Yes, I took a call from a friend of a friend that had attempted suicide. Thankfully the friend lived. Neither of them knew it was me who had taken the call though.

lethargicwalrus197 karma

On that token, have you ever had someone come up to you and say "thanks for saving my life?"

mrsmiller121810312 karma

No, actually, I haven't. Well, not a citizen anyhow. I've heard many thank you's from officers when we have an officer involved shooting but not yet from a citizen. I think it has a lot to do with how anonymous we are to the public. They don't know us individually, but only as the people on the other end of 911 when they call.

OneRaven128 karma

Do you think the anonymity is better or worse than being known?

mrsmiller121810342 karma

Better. For sure. With anonymity, we get thanks from the people we work with. Without anonymity, we get judged by the media and the people we don't work with.

mrsmiller121810264 karma

Judged was a fill in for the word I couldn't find. Meant to say criticized.

BoscoBA00180 karma

How would an individual be able to contact a 911 operator to thank them?

mrsmiller12181085 karma

You could google or look in the phone book the non-emergency number to the 911 dispatch center or for their address and send a card. We get cards once in a while.

I_Cant_Sleep267 karma

Have you ever gotten a call that made you freeze up and forget your training, like it was too horrible or strange that you didn't know what to do?

mrsmiller121810395 karma

I haven't gotten a call that made me freeze up or forget my training but I have taken calls where I am at a loss of what to say to the caller while I'm typing all the information into our computer system so it can be dispatched. I have learned to say things like fillers. Like "Bear with me a moment," or "I understand how you feel, please stay on the line with me while we get them started that way."

Forcepowered150 karma

Can you elaborate on what sort of situations?

mrsmiller121810246 karma

Yes, like when I am going through the computer in the emergency medical directions section and I am trying to put in their symptoms to get to the next screen but I have to scroll through a lot of symptoms to get to the right one. I don't want the caller to think I'm not listening or that I've disconnected, so I fill the space with blah.

lethargicwalrus265 karma

How often do you get prank calls?

mrsmiller121810604 karma

I'd say, like every 3 to 5 minutes.

hillsfar269 karma

We need to charge the phone bill owner if it's a prank call. $10.

mrsmiller121810312 karma

I so agree with you on this, only that would make the phone company a whole lotta cash.

YourFaceHere79 karma

How do you handle them? And are they mostly kids doing it?

mrsmiller121810236 karma

Surprisingly, they are not mostly kids calling. I explain to the caller that it is a crime to misuse 911 and against the law. If I can get that much out before they hang up on me, I feel like I won.

zbaleh36 karma

What size city do you work in?

mrsmiller12181033 karma

90,000 people in the main city, close to 100,000 in the county area.

THEsolid85240 karma

Have you ever seen the video where the 911 operator hangs up at the girl with the potty mouth?

Obvious question - what do you think of that? What would happen if you hung up on a 911 call? What's the protocol in your department for that sort of thing?

mrsmiller121810254 karma

It could have been handled differently. When I am talking to a caller that is constantly cursing, I stop and ask them to please refrain from using that type of language with me, then I continue on taking their call. When it's pointed out to someone, they stop. In this case, I would've ignored her cursing and just asked the questions I needed and continued on with the call. I can't speak for everyone but sometimes when you have a panicked caller and they are cursing at you, it makes it harder for you to remain calm and see past their language skills, in order to get the call processed and dispatched. But it is possible. We do it daily.

Para-Medicine239 karma

I'm a medic/ff, I just want to know how you feel when we give you shit over the radio for not having enough information on the call.

mrsmiller121810243 karma

It doesn't bother me, personally, but I enjoy watching my co-worker's reactions to it. Our medics and fire fighters get emails sent to their cell phones of the information we have, so they know what exactly the details we have. If they want to hear the call being taken they can call dispatch and we can play it back for them.

MyApologiesSir170 karma

How do you deal with (and forget) the things you hear in calls?

mrsmiller121810322 karma

Well, I'm a pretty calm person in nature, so dealing with things as they are going on comes to me easily. In the beginning of my career I would often leave work in tears, with a lot of "what could I have done different" thoughts running through my mind. Now, after 11 years, I leave work at work. When I walk out the door, I don't give a second thought to what happened that day. Unless it's a call that hits home or really jerks my emotions.

desles60 karma

How do you leave the emotion at work? Do you have a routine that helps you to leave the stress at the phone?

mrsmiller121810114 karma

Well, not really a routine, but we switch radio's during the middle of our shifts so it eases up on the people who are taking calls and dispatching calls.

Afroemo155 karma

What do you do if someone who don't speak your language calls you and you don't understand what language he/she is speaking ?

mrsmiller121810226 karma

Well, fortunately that hasn't been much of an issue thus far. I can usually ask them where they are from and determine the language from there. We then patch them through to a translation service that translates for us.

laladestrukt143 karma

Most of the times in my life that I've had to call 911, I wasn't in a position to talk to the operator. What do you do when you get a call and there's a live line, but no one talking on the other end?

mrsmiller121810192 karma

Well, if the call comes from a land line phone and we have the address, we send officer's to that address to check on the occupants of the house. If it's a cell phone, we try to find the closest cell phone tower to do a ping off of to attempt to locate the caller, if it sounds like there is distress or an emergency.

Ibizamitch137 karma

Have you ever had a prank call that made you laugh or one that was just completely ridiculous?

mrsmiller121810237 karma

Several. But they are only funny when it's not busy and they aren't holding up someone else from dialing 911 for help.

awumpa134 karma

Would you mind giving an example of a funny one?

mrsmiller121810450 karma

A caller called in to advise us of a transient that was holding a sign and standing near the McDonald's drive thru one time. The caller called on 911 for this. Wanted to let us know that the transient's sign said, "I'm hungry and I'm not McLovin' it."

PKA1959133 karma

How many times have men had to call you for having their dicks stuck in random places/objects?

mrsmiller121810270 karma

In all of my 11 years as a dispatcher, this has only happened twice. I know this is mean, but these types of calls make me giggle when I have to dispatch them. I feel like a little kid again when I have to say the word "penis" on the radio.

PKA1959126 karma

I've only got three guesses.

1) Hot Tub Jet?

2) Hot Tub Jet?

3) Hot Tub Jet?

mrsmiller121810119 karma

Never a hot tub jet, but I'll be looking forward to that call now! :-)

monotoko124 karma

As a british guy, I have a few friends in America and one time I was sent a pretty bad message that had vibes of "Goodbye" - who should I call in this situation? I ended up calling her local police station who put me through to 911, is this the proper way to do it? Is there any way for me to reach 911 even from a different country?

mrsmiller121810128 karma

If this happens to you again, or anyone you know, google the law enforcement agency in the city that the person lives in and call the phone number. Provide the person's name, address if you have it and any other information you have. You don't have to live in the same area to get someone help. We can usually find someone's address if we have contacted them in the past.

PwnageEngage116 karma

What is the saddest call you've received?

mrsmiller121810327 karma

Any call involving children reporting domestic violence saddens me.

longboarding52105 karma

Could you call somebody using the number 911?

mrsmiller12181095 karma

No. When we dial out, it's a different number.

Dr_Johnitor94 karma

Do you feel you should be allowed more discretion for which calls to actually dispatch?

mrsmiller121810144 karma

No, because I work for a consolidated dispatch center, we don't have discretion on the calls we dispatch. We dispatch all of them. We do not refuse service to anyone. We do, however, choose which way to dispatch the calls, whether to do it over the radio, on the MDC (in the police car computers) or via telephone.

MiceCreamGamer75 karma

What's the point of having the choice in the way which you dispatch the calls? Are there advantages/disadvantages to the three?

mrsmiller121810130 karma

Well, a good reason for having a choice in the way we dispatch calls is because of the media and scanner land. People don't always understand what they are hearing on the scanner, therefore a lot of misinformed people are spreading panic that is unnecessary.

deadmemories168 karma

I feel like dispatch centers should be able to have discretion. A guy called the cops on me and a friend for trespassing because a frisbee went in his front yard and we went to get it. I couldn't believe they actually took the time to dispatch someone for that and waste the cop's time.

mrsmiller121810105 karma

You'd be surprised at the time-wasting type of calls we are required to send officer's to.

moonbooty93 karma

Have you ever answered a call when the person calling was attacked on the call?

mrsmiller121810186 karma

Yes. I have taken several calls where the person calling is being physically beat up by someone in the background. Usually it's mutual combat so it doesn't bother me. Domestic violence is different.

TotallyManner93 karma

How many calls do you get every day?

mrsmiller121810188 karma

Well, on a typical 12 hour shift, on day shift, probably close to 300. On graves, it's closer to 100.

YourFaceHere71 karma

What time is graveyard shift?

mrsmiller12181070 karma

7pm to 7am.

ATealSortaPurple90 karma

What is the most common thing you seem to get calls about?

mrsmiller121810248 karma

Weather. Power outages. People tend to think we have the ability to turn their power back on when it goes out. Elderly people are the ones who believe this is true.

dadams4062121 karma

As a lineman for a power company I can say that calling 911 kinda helps to get your power on quicker. 911 calls show up on our computer system and get the highest priority unless it is a major storm. But it really pisses us off when we get there and it is for some dumb reason.

mrsmiller121810127 karma

Funny you should say that. One time, during a bad storm, we were getting several calls from people asking why their power was out. We had already notified the power company. My supervisor was getting a little irritated and actually told one caller: "Please hold on for a minute while I run in the back room and flip the switch for your power." We all liked that one!

DCPinkey81 karma

Thanks for doing this! Have you ever had someone call and either commit a crime while on the phone with you or ask the protocol on shooting an intruder? Thanks!

mrsmiller121810141 karma

I haven't, personally, but one of my co-worker's has. You can actually see her story on the new A&E show coming up soon called Panic 911.

wheresthecake12380 karma

Did you always want to help people with your job or were you a former worker in the public safety field and decided to be a dispatcher?

mrsmiller121810174 karma

Actually, I stumbled upon this job after hearing a job announcement on the radio for it. I was working a dead end telemarketing job that I hated so I decided to apply and see how far I could get. I figured if it didn't work out that I could always go back to telemarketing. Well, after going through the 7 month long hiring process (background check, psychological evaluation and several other tests) and actually making it, I decided I'd give it my best shot. Once I got the first feeling of "Wow, I just helped someone who had an emergency!" I was hooked. Then I started dispatching on a law radio and had pursuits and such and the adrenaline rush is the highlight of my work shifts now.

IcePeten76 karma

I'm a dispatcher at a cab company, talking to cab drivers, and one thing I noticed is the lack of respect towards me. Do the cops show a lot of respect on the radio?

Edit: Removed one question. Seen you answered it already.

Edit 2: Just wondering, should I do an AMA as well? I kinda feel like I am hijacking this person's nice AMA with one of my own now. :(

mrsmiller121810110 karma

They do show us respect. I think of cops as my co-worker's and it's my job to keep them safe while they protect the community. I do my best to keep them safe and they respect me for that.

Yogi_the_duck54 karma

I would assume that hearing some of these people in distress (and maybe hearing them die or hear about from others that they died) has an intense mental strain that goes along with it. Have you developed any psychological issues due to your job and if so how does this affect your on call performance? Thanks for the AMA.

mrsmiller121810104 karma

We have access to counseling and chaplain's to help us decompress and let go of stressful type incidents or calls. I have never used either. The first two years of working this job were very emotional for me. There were many times I wanted to quit and even wrote up a letter of resignation but something would stop me from turning it it. I have since learned to leave work at the door. I keep my work life separate from my personal/home life and this seems to work just fine for me. The only downfall is when family members ask me if I took any cool calls at work yesterday and I draw a blank because I left it all at the door.

Renrum54 karma

I work for the Emergency Communications Board in Tennessee. I basically assist agencies in fixing their maps, however I well informed in recent developments in 911.

AT&T will soon be implementing SMS texting to 911. What is your opinion of this. Also people have also discussed video and pictures to dispatch. Can you comment on this in your jurisdiction?

Also are you well paid/benefits at your location? Dispatching requires lots of training and experience. I think it needs to be a profession similar to EMT training. Is this the case where you are?

mrsmiller12181071 karma

I have heard about SMS texting to 911. I think it's going to be a good thing, once all the kinks get worked out. Video calls to 911 are also coming. I don't know many details because this is not my department at my agency but I look forward to the challenges that new technology gives us. Many of my co-workers do not, but I love it! I feel that we are well compensated where I work. Our benefits aren't too shabby either. We get a lot of training. Ongoing training as well. We actually have training courses at my work that EMT's and fire fighters attend as well.

chapinrandlett51 karma

couple questions, answer what you will thanks for the ama! *Craziest call you had to deal with? *how long are you typically on with different people? *whats the longest you have every been on the phone? *stupidest reason someone has called in? *have you ever gotten a prank call? *are you often generally scared for people calling in? *is it ever hard to deal with what you are hearing?

mrsmiller121810152 karma

-Craziest call: Talking to a suicidal subject for 40 plus minutes while the swat team was setting up around their house. -Each call type determines the amount of time we are on the phone with someone. -I've been on the phone with someone for over an hour while the ambulance was driving to them. (At their remote house in the middle of nowhere.) -Stupidest reason someone has called in? To let us know that they were not getting an answer while waiting at the drive thru box to order at a fast food restaurant. The officer responded out to confirm the restaurant was indeed closed for the night. -I get prank calls all the time. Multiples times a shift. -It's rare that I'm actually scared for the caller. -When children are calling to report domestic violence, that sucks to hear.

xxRECKONERxx50 karma

Is that a good job? Are you usually busy or slow?

mrsmiller12181082 karma

I think it's a good job. I love my job! It depends on what shift your working on whether or not it's busy or slow. Day shift tends to be very busy, graves, a little slower.

delighted_donkey48 karma

If I become aware of an emergency that's happening out of town, should I call 911 or just try to look up the number for police/fire in that town? Can you easily transfer me to a 911 operator somewhere else in the country, or would that just be a waste of time?

mrsmiller12181041 karma

If you called 911 with an emergency in another town, I'd look up the number and give it to you. We are unable to transfer 911 callers because it ties up our 911 line for other callers. We only have so many 911 lines and we must strive to keep them available for incoming calls. If you called on a non-emergency line, I may transfer you and make sure you get a hold of someone on the other end.

bostonpancakes46 karma

Do you feel like your job has changed your outlook on things? Like how you deal with stressful situations? I know you said you are a calm person in the first place, but has it had any impact? And does it make you more thankful for your life?

mrsmiller12181098 karma

This is a really awesome question! Yes, this job has changed my outlook on the world entirely. Before I became a dispatcher, I lived in my happy little bubble, completely unaware of all the crimes and drug use and just bad shit in general going on around me. When I realized this, I think it made me grow up a little more faster. I started not trusting people so easily. I realized I needed to move to a better neighborhood. I started looking at relatives differently. I deal with stressful situations by taking bubble baths or listening to calming music while playing angry birds. Oh and shopping. I like to shop. Having this job has made me very thankful for life. It has instilled in me the urge to tell every person I love just how much they mean to me every chance I get. Just ask my Mom or my Husband how often they hear me tell them I love them. I'm sure they're getting sick of it by now. I also tend to tell people to be safe or drive safely, more than I ever used to.

confederacist45 karma

What are your favorite and least favorite parts about taking these calls? Is there a lot of stress?

mrsmiller12181098 karma

My favorite part about taking a call is being able to hear the relief in the caller's voice when we hang up. My least favorite part is apologizing to callers for the delay in response from law enforcement due to how busy we are and how understaffed we are. I don't feel like there is a lot of stress with my job, but everyone is different.

dute42 karma

In your experience, does racism play into how calls are responded to?

I ask because I once called 911. I was living in the ghetto at the time, and outside a group of young men were assaulting a woman on the street in broad daylight. I won't get into details, but it was one of the most disturbing things I've ever seen.

The dispatcher asked for ethnicity and a description. I identified both the attackers and victim as being black.

When a cop car came by a few minutes later, everyone scattered. The car slowly rolled by as two thugs grabbed the girl and dragged her into a nearby parking lot, away from the cruiser. The cops didn't even come to a complete stop before leaving.

To this day I believe that if I had said the girl was white and the attackers black, the cops would have actually responded.

A related question: could I get in trouble for intentionally lying about the race of a victim in order to entice cops to actually do their job?

mrsmiller12181051 karma

Reading this makes me very sad. We ask for race on people involved in calls only to better the descriptions of the parties should they leave the scene before our officer's get there. Ethnicity does not determine the way a call is handled or how fast of a response is given. This is wrong and I'm sorry this happened to you.

gav1n_h33 karma

When will they have 911 texting service? How long does it take for them to track your location if you are unable to give it?

mrsmiller12181061 karma

Texts to 911 is coming. I don't know the time frame yet. Tracking your location based on your cell phone really depends on what cell phone company you have and how exact the meters are from the closest cell phone tower near you.

kmmyellow29 karma

What is your favorite part of the job?

mrsmiller12181088 karma

The satisfaction of knowing that I'm doing what I can to help the community that I live in.