IamA 911 Operator, AMA!
Hello! I am a 911 operator for a dispatch center that covers Fire and Medical for the entire county, as well as Police for 7 cities within that county. We receive about 2,000 to 4,000 calls everyday on 911 as well as our non-emergency line. I average about 70 calls per 8 hour shift, with approximately half being 911 and half non-emergency. I'd love to answer any questions as there are way too many misconceptions about what happens on our end of the line! Ask away!
I actually had one just today where a guy called 911 because his smoke detector was chirping and he couldn't reach it. He was requesting we send a tower fire engine out just to change the smoke alarm on his vaulted ceiling
I also had another guy who was instructing me on this entire sting operation he "needed" the police to do. He wanted two unmarked police cars to come around the back and to have another officer come through the front to purposely try and chase out the suspect who would "have" to run out through the back, all so we could catch the man who flipped him off and sped in front of him.
Hahaha believe it or not they actually called someone out to bring a ladder for that man! Lmao you would not believe the amount of people who call in a little road rage incident like that then call back pissed off because "it's been 15 minutes WHERE is the officer??" as if we should just take them off that armed domestic to go chase down the bird-runner lights and sirens
I'm allowed to give people the finger, no? I base most of vehicular communication on this.
Hahah I honestly wish more people would just give the finger and move on instead of calling 911 because "he didn't signal and his plates are expired".
When my sister was house shopping many years ago, one place had damage to the sheet rock on a 2nd story vaulted ceiling room. The neighbors told her later that it was because the smoke alarm had gone off, false alarm (dead batteries or something) but the homeowner refused to buy a ladder for something as insignificant as a smoke alarm. So, the fire dept had to run a ladder through a second-story window, to the top of this vaulted ceiling, to change the batteries. Homeowner was pretty ticked that they damaged the Sheetrock... #smh
Hahaha at least he was sensible enough to know he just needed a ladder instead of requesting an entire tower engine come to somehow change the alarm
So what do 911 operators do when you aren't on the phone? Are you kept busy by paperwork or do you just sit there?
There's a lot of training tests and paperwork to do with the first 6 months of training, but after that not much. There's really only about 1-3 min between calls on an average day shift though
Do you ever get too emotional when receiving extremely distressing calls?
During really tense calls there's definitely an amount of adrenaline involved that mutes most emotions for the time being. I find the most emotional calls to be the ones that aren't necessarily distressing, but just horrible acts morally. A great example of this is child molestation calls
First and foremost, I would like to thank you for what you do.
My question is what made you get into this line of work? Was this always your first choice or did you originally want to do something different?
Why thank you very much!
I want to go into Law Enforcement, Criminal Investigator specifically, but I'm currently still 19 and have to be 21 to join the police academy in my area. I figured this job would be a great stepping stone into what I want to do, especially since I'm going to be training in Police Dispatch in a few months
how did you land the job?
There's a huge turnover rate in my center so it's really as simple as passing an entry test, having a high school diploma/GED, and passing a fairly extensive background check. The thing that really weeds out the fit from the unfit for the job is the training process. When people start to realize that they don't like the job, can't do the job, or are getting low performance reviews, they rarely stay to finish further months of training.
Being so young how do you handle the worst parts of life 8hrs/day
I think too many people only look at the negative aspect of the job. Dealing with certain situations can be stressful and definitely have a negative impact when you associate them with happening in your own life, but I believe they're balanced out by how often we're able to help people. I want to go into public service and I thought this job would be a great test run, and since then I've really come to enjoy the adrenaline that's a byproduct of stressful calls. I think enjoying at least some aspects of the stressful calls and taking pride in helping people outweighs the difficulty of dealing with certain situations, and is why I actually want to go back most days
Do you have any experience with children calling 911 for help?
I probably get a serious call from a child about once a month, as opposed to accidental or prank calls from kids every day. The first thing I'll usually ask a child is if there's an adult I can talk to, and if not and they don't know their address I'll ask them to find a piece of mail and read it to me. That way I can at least get someone out to them and go from there. This is all assuming there's no history on their phone with an address
Worst case scenario if there's no call history and the child is too young to get an address in any way I can ping their cell phone, it's just a lengthy process
What were few memorable incidents that happened while being a 911 operator?
One that's always stuck out in my mind is an overdose call I took not too long back. The patient wasn't breathing effectively and unconscious, and the caller was on the border of hysteria. Giving CPR instructions over the phone is stressful enough, but this guy argued with every single thing I said all while calling me names and screaming into the phone. After a 5 min struggle (way too long) I finally got him to start doing CPR. He would take it seriously for a little bit and then stop or start yelling again and for some reason thought i was lying to him about paramedics being on their way. To make matters worse, he apparently had the address wrong because paramedics drove right by his house, escalating his anger 10x. When they finally got there and took over CPR he called me a few more names then hung up. I was in a bad mood all day because of this call and didn't think to care about what had happened afterwards. A few hours later I looked back into the call and saw that despite this guy delaying CPR for nearly 20 minutes, the patient was still barely alive when they got there. I don't know if it was due to him halfway doing CPR or not, but I didn't expect the amount of relief it would be to find out that this man I had never even talked to was still alive
Related question if you don't mind me asking. I dated a guy who specifically told me, on multiple occasions, not to call emergency if he ever overdosed (never did ultra serious like meth, def had a problem tho). He said he would rather "ride it out".
One night he mixed a whole bunch of depressants and stopped breathing regularly. I didn't call emergency because of what he told me, and ended up recuperating him myself (two medical parents).
So, my question is. In the situation that you've specifically been told not to get help. What is the right thing to do?
I would say that any situation you believe someone needs immediate medical attention, you should call. Best case scenario the paramedics come down and they end up being okay and they leave.
I'm guessing he didn't want you to call for help because he was worried about legal repercussions or the cost of transport? As for legal issues, I would say to still call for help. If that person would have been on the brink of death and survived due to paramedics, I don't think they would look back after so many years and be angered that someone saved their life.
As for the cost of transport, medics don't have to transport if you deny. The least they can do is evaluate the patient and administer Narcan/Naloxone. If someone anticipates that this situation may happen and refuses to call for help, I think they should at least understand when breathing becomes ineffective, how to maintain an airway, and how to perform CPR, and possibly how to administer Narcan/Naloxone. (sounds like you already knew what you were doing)
For your situation though I applaud what you did. I don't know how I would react in that situation and I admire that you were able to do that on your own
What kinda training do you have go through?
You need to be certified in Emergency Medical, Fire, and Police dispatch (3 separate courses) as well as BCI (Bureau of Criminal Identification) certified, and become POST (Peace Officer Standards and Training) certified. This comes out to about 2 weeks of out of work classroom training.
In-work training is a month of lecture, protocol review, CAD training, and listening on other dispatchers/calltakers before ever touching the phones. After that you go through two different training phases over the next 3 months where you basically have a trainer monitoring all your calls and guiding you. When that's finished you take a test with a separate trainer that shows you can work on your own.
Once you're on your own there's about 50 tests to do over the next 3 months.
As for requirements, a simple High School Diploma/GED and the criminal background requirements for POST is all it takes
70 times per 8 hr shift is a lot. What is the average call time and what are your longest/shortest calls?
For most calls the average time is about 2-3 minutes. However when we have to stay on the line calls very easily go between 10 - 20 minutes.
The shortest calls are probably calls from alarm companies. We both know the process so it usually runs like clockwork and is over in less than a minute every time. The longest calls seem to be verbal domestics in our busiest city. This city has tons of domestics for some reason, and even though a verbal domestic is still high priority, they'll still obviously respond to physical or armed domestics first. I've been on the phone with a verbal domestic in this city on a busy day for upwards of 45 minutes. If there's a lot of calls holding though and things are relatively calm, we have an Urgent Disconnect pathway that we can use
Urgent Disconnect pathway
When we have too many calls holding to stay on the phone with a situation that we normally would, we can use something called an Urgent Disconnect where we basically tell them we have to take other calls and to call us back immediately if anything changes. If the situation is severe enough, we can also put them on hold and take other calls, then check back in between calls.
There are certain situations that we can't ever do this though. Most notably would be if the caller is in danger, the patient is unconscious or not breathing, or if they're a child.
Do you work with any people who don't have or don't correctly process emotion? Is that an asset or a liability in this job?
Empathy is something that's actually very useful in this job. As one of my supervisors once told me, "if these calls don't affect you, you're in the wrong line of work". If you lack emotion you lack the desire to really understand the unique circumstances of each situation, and could very easily be held liable if something goes wrong. I would hate to lack emotion in this line of work, as I wouldn't feel the pride in things like helping a mother to get her child breathing again.
As for working with people like this, there's none that I know of. There's a lot of support groups and counseling available, similar to that available for police officers, so I would assume it's common to be effected at least sometimes. I can't say for sure though, there's a huge turnover rate here
Another one, sorry...do you ever get to know the outcome of what happened? Lets say you took a call with someone who was dying do you ever find out what happened once it ends?
There's very little I can see with the outcome of the call, but medical calls usually have the most information. I can see the patients status when the medics arrive (echo being dead for example), and I can see what time they transported them to the hospital and where they went. Once they get to the hospital though, it's beyond me
Is being a 911 operator in your country similar to that in other countries? Moreover What do you do if someone calls and speaks a language you don't understand?
I know that the questioning protocol we use (ProQA) is used globally, so with whatever centers in other countries use that then yes they would be very similar. We use an interpreter service called Voiance. You essentially make a 3-way call with a translator on the line. It's really quick and easy to use, and I've yet to be unable to get a translator for lesser known languages!
What are some of the lesser known languages you remember getting? And how would you even know what language it is to request an interpeter for?
Most people seem to understand at least enough English to respond to "what language do you speak?" but if not we can get them to an operator with our interpreter service who will try to identify the language.
Some that stick out in my head would be Yoruba and Javanese (kept bringing on a Japanese interpreter when I would say Javanese)
How many of the prank calls that you receive are reported to the police? Is this an automated process where you just have to press a "damn kids wasting my time" button?
(I am asking this obviously under the assumption that dialing 911 without a valid reason is actually a felony)
Since there's no way for us to actually verify a prank call, we just note what we hear and let the police decide how to go about it. For example I may use the triangulated address which is usually accurate between 10-100 meters, then type something like "open line.. child on pu(pickup).. said "im from planet dildo" (call i had today).. ph2/40m(how accurate the radius of the address used is).. line disco (means the caller hung up)
then I'll search the phone history for any calls that may have a valid address, then it's our protocol to call back twice. Generally with a prank call kids wont answer if you call back
We don't dispatch police to these unless we have a fairly accurate address and they call multiple times. I really wish more parents would educate their kids on why not to do this though, as calling back the phone while other calls are in queue can delay someone's actual emergency
With cell phones, you cant trace the address they have on file with the provider?
Used to be a dispatcher, it'll show up on the map as the nearest cell tower. After some time it may relocate to a radius of where the person is calling from but not always accurate. As far as getting information from the provider, they have special lines for emergency services, and I'm not sure how it is now but you have to request it, they'll fax you a authorization sheet and you fax it back. At that point they'll begin pinging the phone and updating you. It's more accurate to call from a landline.
Didn't see this reply but this is completely correct. It's always a dream when people call from a landline and we instantly have the address, but sadly landlines are far and few between (aside from businesses).
How do VoIP lines compare to landlines or cell phones?
VoIP lines show on our screen like a landline, but have obstacles with accuracy. We only show information that the subscriber has volunteered, so if they have inaccurate info registered then it becomes less accurate than a cell phone because there's no triangulation.
I have a disabled and ill child. Everyone makes fun of the fact that we still have a land line, but this why. In a crisis. I want them to get to the house as soon as possible.
I personally thank you for having a landline! It really speeds up the process of showing an address right away instead of playing the "turn right at the green house then left at the stop sign" game
We can, but it's a lengthy process. We have to first call a secure cell company to figure out the phone provider (if it doesn't already show), then we have to look into the policy for that specific provider in order to release the info which can be more or less difficult for different providers. A common cell trace would include filling out a paper form including the main details of the call such as the ID number, time it came in, and chief complaint for documentation and for the cell company. Then we call the provider, telling them what's going on and what it's for, they open up a file for the info and e-mail me the required documents and then disclose the information. Afterwards I sometimes have to fax that paper sheet over to the cell provider (sometimes even before gaining the info), then I can get the information into the call.
It's not too difficult but can take about 20-30 minutes to do so, and will delay other calls whether it's an emergency or not, which is why we only do it if we need to
What is the most lame "emergency" that you got called for ?
There used to be this woman who lived in an "upper class" part of town who would call in every week about a "suspicious" man walking down her street. This guy was always wearing a suit and walking in the same direction on Sunday (hm maybe going to church?) and she found it worthy of calling 911. After about the sixth or seventh time she called, she finally replied to the question "what's suspicious about the person?" with "well he's black and he doesn't belong in my neighborhood!". Needless to say the Sergeant went out to her home this time and told her not to call 911 about this. She still would call for the same thing on our non-emergency line every week for a few more times until the Sergeant put a hazard on the address instructing to just have him call the woman before dispatch
The inherent loneliness of life's futile endeavors
What is the biggest problem you have at work?
People not understanding that I can't instantly track exactly where they are at any given time. It's our protocol to first take the address, have the address verified in our system, then have them repeat the address again to make sure we heard them right. A lot of people seem to view this as incompetence or lack of listening when I ask them to repeat themselves, and it often sets a negative tone for the rest of the call.
If people would only understand that location and info verification is crucial to our job and it HAS to be exactly correct, I think the number of disgruntled callers would dramatically decrease
Which dispatch software do you use on your consoles?
We use Spillman for our CAD (computer aided dispatch) software and Power 911 with Power MAP for our map/phone software. However we're moving to Intergraph in about a year which looks like a huge upgrade!
hey do you get trained on detecting pranks? because you are either risking wasting resources on pranks or not helping someone just because they sounded like it was a prank. Which of those paths has 911 taken? I'm pretty sure it wouldn't be up to individual employees to decide
The most important thing we look to is call history. If we find this phone has several calls (especially involving domestics) and we have enough for a good address, we'll send someone out. However, if there's no history, nothing alarming heard, and we don't have a very good location, we don't have the resources to send someone out looking for them. Even if we have a fairly accurate location like a 5 meter radius but there's nothing alarming heard and no phone history, we still won't usually send someone out (unless they call repeatedly). We constantly have calls waiting so spending resources on something that's most likely a kid playing with a phone will delay actual calls.
The decision of whether to go out is basically a combined determination between the call-taker, the dispatcher, and the police.
Have you ever had a call that ended up being an issue for federal law enforcement (FBI, CIA, etc)?
I had one a few weeks ago from the Secret Service just asking for local pd to accompany them because someone threatened Trump lol
Thanks for doing this AMA and doing this job.
What was the most difficult situation you had in terms of not showing emotion?
It would be a good tie between one I mentioned earlier in this thread about a very elderly woman finding her loved one, or one domestic/rape call that really stuck with me. The first one was difficult and very different than other calls of that nature because she kept repeating "my best friend is gone" and she kept asking me questions about what she should do now. It was really hard to find any advice to give her knowing that there wasn't anything that could help her husband, and with how upset she was and with me being very new to the job I didn't feel comfortable disconnecting.
The second one was from a younger girl who was very non-cooperative and argumentative and kept telling me to just not worry about it and that it was okay (we can't cancel on domestics), and after a few minutes of back and forth I was beginning to get pretty frustrated. I don't even remember what it was that I asked her, but at some point she just completely broke into tears and started sobbing about how her boyfriend had been raping her and hitting her and she just wanted to get out but was too scared. I instantly felt so much guilt for becoming agitated with her and my tone softened by ten-fold
How many percents of calls are not serious or are pranks?
I probably get an obvious prank call every day or two, so I'd say approximately 1%. Pocket dials are much more common though. Probably every 1 in 5 911 calls I take is a pocket dial or a baby playing with the phone or some other accidental type of call
What do you do after prank call? Give pranker information to police to take measures? Ignore it? Something other?
For the most part we ignore it as we don't have the resources to go to the location. The only way we dispatch is if there's a pertinent history on the phone or address, or if the person keeps calling in repeatedly and we have a good address.
- Do you play overwatch
- Don't you hate being a Mercy main? "I need healing!" even at work!
- Fairly often yes
- Hahaha if only I could push Q and resurrect the patient
When someone call 911 for help, is there any tip on how we should describe the emergency situation to make your job easier?
The first tip I would give is wait until we prompt you to describe it. Too many people jump right into what's happening when that's actually the 4th question I ask. As for describing the actual problem, I would just say to keep it as short as you can and only include the main issues. We ask a series of questions that will gain any pertinent information, and the responders will gain all the additional information. We really just need enough information to know what type of event is happening.
For example, if you call in a car accident, instead of saying "well i was turning left and they didn't signal then I swerved out of the way and dropped my nachos and the person behind me slammed their breaks so the other girl hit me and made me roll forward into the first car". just say "I was involved in a 3 car accident". The officers will take any information about what exactly happened, I just need the basics
True Story: Around 3 days ago I was on the MARC train and as we were approching a stop this guy came up to me and told me i was going to be a hero, he left his bag and walked away. I was 2 stations away from my stop and decided to get the fuck off the train(The lady next across from me also heard it and got off). I ended up taking an uber home which cost me an extra $10 but for the piece of mind it was worth it. I didnt call 911 as I was unsure if it was a prank or not and didnt want to get in trouble. What would have been a protocol response from this sort of call? (I was scared shitless at the time, and even texted my dad that I loved him)
My first thought would be "Suspicious Person" but depending on how you described his bag I might go "Suspicious Package". If there were any clear indications of a hazmat or bomb threat (residue for example) then I may even send the fire department.
What are some ways we can make it easier for you to do your job when we call? Any way to make it easier for you and thus quicker for us to receive help?
Understanding that there are questions we have to ask in a specific order, and answering questions in the order they're asked. Every call starts off with "911, what is the address of the emergency?", and waaaay too many people completely miss the question. Even if you don't know the answer to something, saying "i don't know" is much much better than saying something completely unrelated
Always know your location. Answer any questions we ask. Those questions are not delaying the response.
Why did you go into that field?
For me it's a stepping stone into Law Enforcement. I'm hoping to join police academy when I'm old enough.
As for why I chose this job specifically, it's because I wanted a job where I can do something at least a little bit different every day, and can feel proud about what I've done afterwards
I'm hoping to join police academy when I'm old enough.
Umm... are you not 18?
Sadly it's 21 in my state :/
How do you deal with the emotions of a call? I always hear 911 calls on YouTube or Tv and it's quite a bizarre situation that you most likely are dealing with someone on the end of a line who is either in a panic, shock, highly emotional and possibly irrational. 1) how do you yourself stay calm? 2) do you feel empathy for them or are you trained to get them help asap and deal with the emotions later after the call is over? 3) after a shift are you yourself exhausted and zapped of emotional energy?
I always marvel at how you guys handle it all. If I had someone call me to report that someone is dying in an emergency situation I would fall to bits.
1.) When I have a caller who's in any type of distress I usually put my focus into finding out what will put them at ease which kind of diverts my focus. For example focusing on giving reassurance for someone who's upset after being a victim of domestic violence and letting them know they WILL be helped, vs. becoming stern and persistent with an irate caller who's arguing and not listening
2.) I think empathy is a driving force of this job. There are definitely some stressful situations where it'd be great to just hang up and go home, but the empathy of wanting to help them pushed you to divert your focus. It's more of an adrenaline at the time and the emotions may come up during a break or after my shift
3) On a busy day there's definitely some exhaustion. What I found worse than that is the days where it seems like every caller is difficult and argumentative and you go home pissed off. Most days though I feel good about at least one thing I did, so it's a worthy trade off
You average about 10 calls an hour, how long are the typical calls? What is the process for a call, like if I tell you what my emergency is, how do you know what to do? Example, I tell you I am trapped inside my basement and the door is jammed and I cannot escape.
Most calls are between 1-3 minutes, but some are much longer when we have to stay on the phone. We have a set of protocols that we follow called ProQA that open up a line of questioning for a bunch of different scenarios, then it's just up to us to relay that info effectively and try to calm the caller enough to clearly answer.
If you said you were trapped in your basement I would first ask the entry questions for every call (location, phone, name, and what's happening), then I would launch the fire protocol for entrapment. There would be a series of questions relating to being trapped, then we could disconnect or stay on the line depending on the circumstances.
This can be difficult however when complaints become mixed. For example if you said "I'm trapped in my basement and I can see smoke coming through the door" I would go with the Structure Fire protocol, because smoke indoors is enough indication to assume there's a fire and a fire is higher priority than just being trapped
Are you told to keep asking the caller questions until help arrives?
Sort of. We have a series of questioning that we have to get through called ProQA, and after that we can disconnect if the situation isn't severe. However, if we have to stay on the line and have finished the questioning, we're taught to avoid as much dead air as possible. With some situations this can be rather difficult because there's not much more info to gain, but with most it's fairly easy. Some of my go-to's would be, with medical calls for example, "how is their breathing", "what's the best way to get to them?", "have they become any more alert?", "whats their name?".
With police calls it varies a lot, but for the most part I try to gain as many small details about the suspect I can and with domestics, I always get the name and date of birth of everyone involved.
How much does your work affect your personal life? And has your work changed you in some fundamental way? How you see life?
The two things I've noticed the most is that it's greatly improved my communication skills and that I've become more alert/paranoid (which I see as an asset). I feel I've also come to appreciate the people I have in my life more after dealing with situations like abuse/neglect, domestic violence, and death calls in general.
What has been the scariest call you've ever had?
One that I haven't mentioned here was a call from a small child that was screaming at the top of her lungs barely able to choke out a sentence. I kept hearing banging in the background and eventually she calmed down enough to make out "my dad keeps hitting me" and "please make him stop". Luckily I had an address form the history on the phone, but I still needed a lot more information. I would try to wait until she would take a breath to ask a question, but she would only respond with things like "it hurts" and "why are you doing this". I was still really new at this time and was almost at a loss for what to do. Then to my relief, another dispatcher found a hazard (important message) on an address from the phone history that was associated with address of this phone history. The hazard basically said that the child at the home has severe Oppositional Defiant Disorder and Autism, and has made false abuse claims multiple times in the past. I immediately felt a huge weight off my shoulders, and while I was on the phone with the child the other dispatcher contacted the parents who advised everything was okay. They still sent an officer out just to check and I guess the girl was sent to her room and her disorder started acting up, and the banging was her banging her fists and her bed against the wall
A long question, but I'll bold the direct question if you're short on time.
I am a Criminal Justice student at my local college. I attend CTC regularly and hope to graduate soon. I currently have my Certificate of Completion in Criminal Justice though.
I've always considered being a 911 operator. My question is, What personal skills do you excel at that help you in your area of work? Does typing at 160WPM (my current record when typing/practicing for a day or two, but average 120WPM) help? I'm sure being a great multi-tasker helps as well, but what other personal things do you find that help you?
Criminal Justice major here as well!
Wow 160 WPM is amazing!! My center actually only requires 40 WPM lmao I usually average about 100. Typing quickly definitely does help, but the most useful skills that you develop are summarizing really long statements into a few sentences and typing something while listening to something different and still comprehending it.
The most important skill outside of work I would say is to be able to involve yourself in a stressful situation without mimicking the intensity yourself. You need to be the calming or directing voice, and the more emotionally involved into a call you get the worse it tends to go.
Another important trait is being a good listener. It's really easy to start assuming you know the situation after taking so many similar calls, and then end up being completely wrong. Many calls are unique and you'll have a new one nearly every day, so being an active listener really helps
I find I can be pretty calm when working under stress. I used to work the front desk at a hotel and during the busy seasons we would sometimes have 20-30 people standing in the lobby waiting to check in. I've frequently been the only one working at that time as well, and handled it quite easily. This became easier as I gained more experience and became faster and efficient at my job.
Is this your experience? Has it become easier to remain calm and listen better to calls the more experience you got while working?
Yes for sure. I think a big part of it is understanding your limitations and just doing the best you can. It can be stressful when it's really busy and you're taking calls back to back, but once you become more comfortable and confident with your abilities it becomes far less stressful.
I find it easy to remain calm especially after time, but the one thing that still bugs me is when people call for help about something that's not an emergency and are still irate and do everything they can to hinder the process
Hey What was the most terrifying / sad call you got?
The most terrifying was a woman who locked herself in a shed because her crazy ex boyfriend was outside possibly with a gun. She was watching him through a crack and every time she'd say he was walking towards her I'd start thinking of any possible thing I could say if he came inside
The saddest call was a type of call that for some reason always gets to me, very elderly people finding their loved ones dead. This lady was in her 80's and kept saying "my best friend is gone forever" and telling me about how they where high school sweethearts. Was probably the hardest call for me to keep composure and figure out what to say
I think I wouldn't be the best calltaker, just reading this already hit me in the feelings
Some situations can be pretty upsetting, but the ones where you can really help far make up for it. Having someone thank you for helping them in a situation that they thought they were completely helpless in is one of the most gratifying feelings. Even when people are agitated and berate you then hang up, it's still a good feeling when you know you helped them regardless
I heard it requires a lie detector test before you can be hired. What kind of questions do they ask and how nerve wracking is it?
Some cities do but not with my agency. It's usually those that are directly associated with one specific police department that require it. With my center we just have to sign a waiver saying that if they did want to polygraph we consent, and we have to go through a lengthy background investigation.
Do you get moments where you're like "Not this shit again?" If so, what are they?
Oh hell yes it's always civil problems with relationships. They always give sooo much information that doesn't matter at all to me and I end up spending way too much time on calls that usually don't even need police intervention in the first place.
Another one is when people call in a suspicious person because "I've never seen them in my neighborhood"
I've never seen the movie so you would have to explain the red-orange-green for me to know what you're talking about. As for communicating with other agencies we usually create a call for an Assist Agency that shows up on the screen of the agency we're requesting the assistance for. Another common event that involves other agencies is an ATL (Attempt To Locate), and it can be sent over a separate database that reaches across multiple agencies.
I'm not sure exactly what you're asking about but I would love to answer if you explain what happens in the movie!
Hi. I have a few questions.
If you take a call and there is nothing but silence on the other end do you assume the caller is in a situation where they cannot talk and start to ping their phone?
Have you been swatted? Is this still a thing? I have not heard about it in a while. It has happened twice in my small town and it was a pretty big deal.
If a person calls in a threat to the President do you transfer that to Secret Service or does it start locally and go up there? Thanks for doing what you do.
No not at all we take hundreds of pocket dials every day so we would have to have dedicated officers just for open lines to handle all of them! Our policy is to run TTY (phone typing service for deaf people), listen for anything alarming, document the general location that we show, and then we can disconnect after 1:30 minutes. After that we call back twice and if it goes to voicemail or there's no pickup we don't dispatch unless there's an adequate history on the phone. If they do answer we verify location, phone number, name, if they need assistance, and if they're speaking freely
I've never seen any swatting calls in my area but I've taken serious calls where the SWAT had to be involved. The most recent is a man who barricaded himself in his home with a gun and was shooting randomly, he had to be gassed to get him out.
I've never taken a call from someone threatening the president so I'm not entirely sure how the police would go about it, but I have had the reverse. I've had the Secret Service calling requesting to have the local pd involved with going to the home of someone who threatened the president
the most vivid call you can recall?
I had an obvious death call where a woman found her son. When I asked "Exactly why does it look like he's dead?" and "do you think he's beyond any help?" (both to determine if starting CPR), she replied with "I don't know he just looks dead". I asked her to go into the room so we can start CPR and she handed the phone off to her husband, I guess neither of them had actually gone inside for long enough to really look at him. I asked her husband to go into the room so we can try to help his son, and as soon as he walked in I heard "oh god" and he vomited a good 3 times. I applaud the man because he still kept going and rolled his son over, and then told me that his face was swollen, his skin was turning black, there was blood everywhere, liquid oozing out if his head, and that his skin was coming off. Needless to say I didn't start CPR instructions. I don't think I'll ever forget the pain in his voice as he described all of those details in much more length.
Another similar one was a guy who found his wife dead in the bathtub. I didn't actually take the call, but he pocket dialed 911 afterwards and couldn't hear me speaking. I looked at the phone history and started reading through the call as to what had happened, and had to stay on the line for a little while and listen to the most painful crying I've yet to hear.
Did you ever watch John Oliver's take on 911 operators?
His basic premise is we aren't giving operators the technology/funding to accurately find people so emergency workers can get to people in time. It also touched on a number of places that are severely understaffed, where people have to wait on hold for their calls. Is this an issue you've dealt with directly? Have you every taken a call where you think something bad could have been avoided if you had better technology? And do you feel like your center is properly staffed?
I haven't but I'll definitely give it a watch tonight!
Yes to the first two and somewhat for the second, I'll elaborate. Not only is our technology years behind what it probably should be (we're using a software that's been in use since 2002), but also the media sets unrealistic expectations. People think we can real-time track their location by GPS or whatnot, so they don't put enough effort into helping us find the address if they don't know it. Cell tracing is a lengthy process and is far too impractical to use on even 1% of calls. The faster we have your location, the faster units can be there.
On a busy day, 911 calls can go into hold for usually up to a minute. This time will spike when there's a large event like a rollover accident or a fire, and all the sudden there will be 10 calls holding within 15 seconds. This can be a problem when you have 9 people calling about the same fire, but the last person in queue is having an unrelated, life threatening emergency. For the most part though, hold time is pretty limited, but could be better.
One call that sticks out in my mind is a lady who kept calling and hanging up, hysterically screaming/crying and saying something about her baby. It was impossible for anyone to get her address and the triangulation wasn't nearly accurate enough. If there weren't as many barriers between cell providers and 911, we could have gotten her location much more quickly and sent people out there.
My center is doing okay with staffing at the moment, but is generally always understaffed. We hire on average 4 people every 3 months, but there's such a turnover rate that staffing usually stays the same (though it has increased lately). On an average day there's often about 8 people there to answer 911 and non-emergency calls, and 15 dispatchers who can also answer non-emergency calls when it gets busy
When I was a kid I was playing around with my telephone my trying to dial phone numbers with my toes, apparently I must have dialed 911 by accident because 10 minutes later a policewomen showed up the door and I hid and she left when no one answered the door, how common are accidental dialings by kids?
Accidental dials, especially by adults, are definitely one of our most common calls. The policies for how these are handled varies by each agency due to amount of resources, but with mine we simply don't have enough resources to send someone out on even 10% of accidental dials. It depends on the history on the phone or address and if anything alarming could be heard. If both of those are clear then we call back twice and verify some info if they do answer, and if not we almost never dispatch.
How many people live in your county?
A quick google search shows a little over a million
What's the most ridiculous situation you've gotten a call about?
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