April 14-20 is National Telecommunicators Week: More than a formal thank you is in order!

This week I’ve had the privilege of spending time listening to 911 Professionals in Kansas and Wisconsin as we’ve explored their exposure to traumatic events–and how to boost resilience and preserve their quality of life in the face of these stressors. And once again I have been powerfully struck by 911Pros’ resilience, and by the enormous demands their work places on their shoulders.

Yet, to most Americans, even those who have personally been rescued in their worst moments by The Very First Responder, focus on the 911 professional fades into the background as the field responders arrive on scene. I am not stroking the proverbial violin inviting others to grab a fiddle for the Poor Me Concerto here. (But there is a symphony playing in the background of this message. So keep listening.) It is so understandable that an invisible responder who passes the torch to those on scene will be forgotten by the citizen whose vision is then filled with the officers, firefighters or paramedics who come to the rescue in full living color.  This is as it should be; yet it provides an explanation for how difficult it is for the public to grasp and sustain an awareness of the toll that 911 work takes on the emergency dispatcher–and to wonder what should be done to protect their health and retain them on our 911 workforces.

National 911 Telecommunicators Week (NTW) is an opportunity for all of us to pause, consider the invaluable role these professionals have in our lives, to wonder about the skills and emotional costs required to do this job, and to imagine what it would be like if we sat in their HotSeats managing our most tragic calls.

This NTW, why not consider calling your local police, sheriff or 911 agency’s non-emergency line to say thank you to your local 911 professionals? This special week can also serve as a time for 911 frontliners and supervisors to affirm their appreciation of each other–including the PSAP (Public Safety Answering Point) Quality Assurance staffers who must listen repeatedly to the worst calls as a “routine” part of their jobs. Can you say Vicarious Traumatization?

Yet, credit and gratitude are also due to the 911 communication center managers and directors who are expected to go in umpteen directions seamlessly serving all parties within and beyond the PSAP. Picture the 911 leader as the classic Gumby toy with both rubber arms stretched long by the essential requests of their dispatchers, governing board members, other emergency response agencies, and by the demands of media during those worst events.

When all is said and done, the work that all members of our 911 centers do to produce consistently excellent 24/7/365 response is nothing short of extraordinary. Have you ever marveled at a great symphony orchestra whose many members can draw unified sound from a hundred instruments, translating written notes into remarkable harmonies and melody? If we then reflect on our 911 “system” we can see a parallel: The notable difference is that the Orchestra performs under ideal conditions for our pleasure for a few hours while 911 professionals offer up typically seamless and constant intervention that helps save lives every day of the year.

Finally, if we are to connect all the dots in this constellation of players in the 911 Response Family, we will also salute the National 911 Program Office, the state chapters and headquarters’ staffs of APCO–the Association of Public-safety Communication Officials, and NENA–the National Emergency Number Association, the IAED–the International Academies of Emergency Dispatch, and the many quality “vendors” who serve the industry. Together these 911 stakeholders work hard to equip our local 911 professionals for best practice through their leadership, development of educational resources, standards, emergency response protocols, support services, and state-of-the-art technologies.

Thank you all for your service to our country. We owe more than we realize to you! And we pledge to uphold your health and quality of life the best we can in the next year!

Jim Marshall

For the Board of Directors, 911 Wellness Foundation                                       http://www.911Wellness.com

NOTE: permission to republish this article is granted without restriction by the author

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21 Responses to April 14-20 is National Telecommunicators Week: More than a formal thank you is in order!

  1. Natalie Duran says:

    My goodness Jim! Throughout the years I have read countless tribute in reference to our profession but never one like this one!! WOW! absolutely beautifully written. My heart swelled with pride in reading it. Thank you Permission to share with my public safety world.


    Natalie Duran

    Sent from my IPAD

  2. 911wellness says:

    My pleasure, Natalie: you are an advocate uniquely qualified by your 911 experience and the breadth of your travels as a public safety educator to help spread this message. We are blessed to have you on the 911WF board. You are among those I salute this next week and always. Thank you!

  3. Nancy McMahon says:

    Thanks Jim…..Great article, 31yrs of service to the Citizens of Seattle!! yes we are so forgotten and it seems to get worse as time goes on…..But with your help and Natalie i am sure we will becoome more recognized…

    • 911wellness says:

      It is my privilege, Nancy: thanks so much for this incredible term of service to Seattle, and as one of the enormous invisible work force of our Very First Responders. With active support and involvement of 911Pros like you, and your peers around the country, I am confident that the Foundation can continue to raise awareness and achieve lasting changes in public perception, standards of care in the 911 industry, and ultimately in protecting the Quality of Life you and your peers experience. We need you and other veterans to be healthy, experience satisfaction at your work and to be resilient in the face of increasing stress at the console. Why? First, simply because you matter. Secondly, the success of our Next Generation 911 Telecommunicators will depend on how well we (ALL 911 Stakeholders) support your wellbeing as you strive to train the next few waves of Newbies. To support this cause, please do invite your peers to visit and follow our blog here.

      Thanks for responding, Nancy! All the best to you each day. And Peace!

    • 911wellness says:

      Nancy: looks like my response to Natalie may have sent by mistake in response to your kind words. So again, thank you so much. 31 years. Wow! Now that takes real resilience! Yes we can achieve the awareness and gains if we all keep pulling together. Take good care of yourself– and keep speaking up on https://http://www.facebook.com/groups/911WellnessFoundation/?fref=ts).

  4. Monica says:

    WOW!! This article is awesome! Thank you!!

    • 911wellness says:

      Thank you, Monica: we as a community of those who recognize the crucial role of 911Pros need to continue educating all 911 stakeholders–and that includes the public and government officials–about the value of the telecommuicators AND the risks they face, so as a nation we are proactive in support of their wellbeing. This blog and the 911 Wellness Foundation are dedicated to that cause. I would be most grateful if you and others reading would invite your friends, colleagues, and family to also read and join us here. There is much work to do (see our Mission and “Four Streams of Activity–it will take an ongoing, cohesive effort to achieve it. Thanks again, and Peace to you!

      Jim M.

  5. Tamara Krueger says:

    Beautiful article. I was so happy to see this, and I shared it on my FB page to help others catch a glimpse of our invisible world. It may be there first time they even stop to think about the chain reaction of an emergency call, and just who was the first link to the response they received. Thanks again Jim, for this article and for your support of our invisible community.

  6. Lori says:

    Thanks Jim, and Thanks to all Public Safety Telecommunications Professionals!!

    During this years National Public Safety Telecommunications Week our personnel across the country have certainly seen many challenges – Boston, West, TX and the OK tornado’s just to name a few. It’s always amazing to see how Telecommunicators all pull together during stressful times to support one another, as is done on every day. The sense of family and of teamwork that resonates from this industry is amazing, and I am proud to be a part of this profession! I hope that every Telecommunicator has someone who stops to say a big “Thank You” this week!

  7. As tragedies unfold across our nation this week, we should all be mindful and supportive of our FIRST first responders who are the link between the ‘reaction’ and the ‘action’…our 9-1-1 call takers and dispatchers. Our voices are not silent on the radio, and they should be loud and proud as we take the time to show gratitude and appreciation for the men and women under the headset! Thank you to all my fellow Telecommunicators and their families and supportive friends for the excellence in service and selflessness you demonstrate every day! And thank you, 9-1-1 Wellness Foundation, for providing a forum for our family to grow together in understanding and support!

  8. Jennifer says:

    Great article, I definitely agree that someone who has been saved in a tragic event or had a loved one who was saved in a tragic event and their first action was to call 911, the call takers and dispatchers definitely get overlooked many times because the first thing everyone thinks of are the responders. However, without that call taker/dispatcher those responders would have never shown up and the caller (if calling for a victim other than self) most likely would not have known what to do in that situation until the responders arrived. I definitely think the 911 telecommunicators deserve much more credit than they receive.

    Thanks, Jen D.

    • 911wellness says:

      Hi Jen: thanks much for this comment. You are surely right. One predictable reality in times of crisis for most all of us is to focus on the helper who we can see and is on scene. So while the 911 professional performs a critical part of the emergency response, the caller will understandably shift the focus to those who arrive on scene, and his or her memory will more likely carry those field responders beyond that event as those who had helped. Honestly, earlier in my career as a mental health crisis interventionist who had called 911 many times to help find folks at risk of suicide, this same phenomenon (out of side/out of mind) led me to think of and feel more gratitude for those officers who were on scene. Had it not been for my sister, a 911 dispatcher raising my awareness and reminding me of the the “Very First Responder’s” critical role, I too would perhaps still be forgetting. In the last decade fostering such awareness of and appreciation for 911 has been a personal objective. Now the Wellness Foundation works strategically with other 911 stakeholders to boost awareness among mental health professionals about this crucial role played by 911Pros (so these groups can partner together to improve outcomes for callers in mental health crises). So thanks much for your comment.

  9. John Van says:

    As I continue my education in the Criminal Justice field, I am learning a lot about what it takes to be a 911 dispatcher/calltaker. This has to be one of the most stressful jobs to be had. I had read another article that stated…”this is not a job…it’s a calling. As I have learned through my 911 classes, this occupation takes a very special breed of person. It’s not for the faint/weak of heart. It is also a thankless job. All too often the dispatchers that did a their job, by asking all the right questions, staying calm and collected, by keeping the caller calm, and sending the right responders…go un noticed or thanked. In my book…it’s not right…they deserve more praise and thanks for what they have to endure on a daily basis.

    • 911wellness says:

      John: thanks much for this reply. You and others studying criminal justice, including Christina below, will perhaps go forward as professionals in the law enforcement community with a greater understanding and respect for the Very First Responder–and this can make a significant difference in how well field responders and telecommunicators collaborate as peers, differently tasked but equally essentially to the best emergency response. Keep up the good work in school and peace to you!

  10. Alicia Bryant says:

    I would like to thank all you guys for your hard work and dedication!

  11. justin says:

    I thought that was very nice, and the very first responders deserve more praise for the job and stress they are put through.

    • 911wellness says:

      Thank you Justin! You are right. As more citizens helped by 911 recognize the great work they do, I too hope expression of appreciation will grow as well. Thanks for doing YOUR part in this regard. Peace to you!

  12. Kelly Ward says:

    This article is so true. I think that we all need to take the time to truly thank Emergency responders, telecommunicators, and every one in between. Unless you are in the profession or studying to be in the profession, you do no truly know how hard it can be. As John stated, this job is a calling and it takes a lot of courage and guts to do this job! I am also in the Criminal Justice program at school and the more we learn about dispatchers and everything that their jobs entail, it makes me want to call every day and say a big “THANK YOU!”

    • 911wellness says:

      Kelly: I am just delighted that you and your colleagues in Criminal Justice programs have found our blog since it is enabling you to provide such encouraging comments for our telecommunicators to find and enjoy. As you, I am not a 911 Professional. I actually think this view from the outside looking into their 911 world allows us to realize what an extraordinary demand they shoulder incredibly well (whereas many 911Pros will just tell me “Hey, it’s just what we do”. My respect for the profession–these folks who have become like family to me–has only increased through the years I have worked with them in the industry. So thank you for adding your remarks to your peers’. All the best in your studies. 🙂

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