By: Laura Chase
Trying to capture the importance of, or even what a telecommunicator does day-to-day is virtually impossible. Even those in the field often fall short of describing the true essence of everything telecommunicators do. Since it’s National Public Safety Telecommunicator Week (NPSTW), we want to pull back the curtain a bit and not only share the history of this celebratory week but examine how these superheroes impact each of us, often behind the scenes.
Background and History
Created by Patricia Anderson of the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office in California, National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week has been celebrated during the second week of April each year since 1981. This year, we celebrate April 9 – 15 to honor these first first-responders.
No Typical Days
In an emergency communications center, there are no “typical” days. While each center may have different staffing levels, shift lengths, policies, and procedures, they have one thing in common: stress. No matter the size, emergency communication center staff must usually answer many calls, ranging from a caller wanting to know what time the July 4 fireworks start to a mother screaming that her child is not breathing. There’s no way to predict what kind of call they’ll take when they pick up the phone. These telecommunicators are masters at switching gears and prioritizing tasks.
Additionally, the hours a telecommunicator may be required to work can be as much as 16 hours per day in the U.S. If the phone lines are busy or there is a significant incident, breaks aren’t always possible. Although schedules and shifts differ from center to center, working holidays, weekends, and nights at some point in one’s career are almost inevitable. Shift work may also mean a telecommunicator must not only answer 9-1-1 and non-emergency calls but also dispatch law enforcement, emergency medical services, and fire personnel.
These are just a few examples of how each center is different. However, every emergency telecommunicator works hard and plays a massive role in keeping our communities safe. They are highly trained professionals who use their experience, training, and skills to save lives daily.
With the rise in awareness of NPSTW and what telecommunicators face, some are beginning to receive more recognition for their work and dedication to public safety. Recognizing the importance of these roles is also starting to spread to other industries, such as utilities and transportation, that also utilize critical communications.
Heard, Not Seen
Telecommunicators are often the lifeline to personnel in the field and the calm voice for the person on the other line in a frantic emergency. However, the emotions under the headset can run from peaceful to panic within seconds, making the telecommunicator’s job like a roller coaster of highs and lows. The work can often seem thankless, with many people in the public not realizing the job’s stress. So, NPSTW is a way to remind us to celebrate and be thankful for the many public safety telecommunicators in our communities.
Superheroes don’t always wear capes, but with or without capes, public safety telecommunicators are certainly everyday heroes!