Dispatchers: The Unsung Heroes of Public Safety
National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week takes place the week of April 14 – April 20, recognizing the dedicated men and women who are the first line of defense and comprise emergency response agencies. Bartlesville Police Department Dispatcher, Teri Roberts, is one of these people. She listens to the caller’s needs and types information into the computer system, which takes eight monitors to manage. She asks the caller questions about the type of call and their location, while maneuvering her mouse to one of the screens dedicated to the radio frequencies for 20 different agencies. Roberts quickly notifies the Fire Department and Ambulance of the address of the call and the details of the caller’s emergency. She takes pride in her work, and after completing the call she states, “It’s all in a day’s work, and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.”
Securely located in the Bartlesville Washington County Sheriff’s Office, the dispatch center has three different shifts, operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week. There are 15 dispatchers contracted to handle all the 911 emergency calls across the entire county. Rick Silver, Special Assistant to the Chief of Police at Bartlesville Police Department, is responsible for the dispatch center. From the 1st of January to March 31st, Silver recalled that over 4,200 emergency calls and over 18,000 non-emergency calls to 911 had been answered by dispatchers. “I’ve always told everyone my whole career that being a cop was what I wanted to do. To me that was the easy thing. I would never be a dispatcher,” Silver said. “It takes a special kind of person to be able to do that job because it is very hectic sometimes. People don’t realize the volume of calls that come in there.”
Dispatchers aren’t just the first line of defense for the people calling in, but also for the officers who are handling these calls out in the field. A dispatcher must be a multi-tasker, someone who is able to gather information and provide it to the officers and responders in the field while remaining calm and professional during stressful and intense situations.
Terri Mcarty, who has been a dispatcher for 33 years, says she wouldn’t do anything else. “It’s just what we like to do – help the community, and it makes you feel good that you are able to help somebody in their time of need. We are behind the scenes, and no one really knows who you are, but it just makes you feel good to go home at the end of the day and know that you helped somebody.”
Jon Copeland, Undersheriff of Washington County believes that dispatchers are crucial to assisting local deputies. “They are the heroes behind the scenes, the unsung heroes. They are the ones taking the initial information and letting deputies, EMS, fire, and police officers know where they need to go. They gather quite a bit of information and check up on us when they are on a call.” He is so thankful for the calm and steady voice on the radio. “It’s priceless. We can’t thank our dispatchers enough.”