The dispatcher has many roles during high stress and critical situations. They are the first point of contact for a caller witnessing an abnormal or emergency situation. They operate as the liaison, or eyes and ears as we like to say, for patrol officers responding to the incident. Dispatchers are trained to decipher the important information and the order in which to ask it. For dispatchers, seconds saves lives, possibly the life of the officer responding to your call for help.
Generally in high profile calls such as an active shooter there will be multiple calls received at the dispatch center. It is the dispatcher’s responsibility to obtain all pertinent information rapidly for responding units in a quick and efficient manner with an emphasis on citizen safety and officer safety. There are normally two dispatchers on duty at a time so the questions will be fast and succinct.
Below are some of the questions you can expect to be asked by the dispatcher. The unique nature of each incident will determine how the questions below are prioritized and more specific questions may be asked as the situation unfolds.
Where is your emergency? This is the first question that is always asked because in the event a caller cannot stay on the phone or the line is disconnected we a have an address or location to respond to. There are other methods and ways of finding out where someone might be calling from in the event no information can be relayed on the phone. It’s important to know that some cell phones provide latitude and longitude of a location however they are not always exact and may only give a dispatcher a general area in which assistance is needed. So, if possible, advised the location. Help will be on the way immediately even though you are talking to a dispatcher.
What is your emergency? We need to determine quickly what is going on in order to help in determining the priority in which we dispatch calls for service as well as which agencies to send (police, fire, ambulance, etc…) Under stress some people freeze. Think about how you would tell a dispatcher a person is shooting a gun in a crowded area.
Have you seen the assailant(s)? We will attempt to determine how many assailants there are, what they look like, what they wearing, if they are known to you, and so on. Also providing the last known location and direction of travel will also assist responding officers.
What kind of weapon(s) are being used? This question will be clarified by the dispatcher but can include what you have heard to determine if and what type of weapons are involved such as shots fired, an explosion, etc.
What have you heard? What have you heard from the scene of the crime? Has the assailant(s) said anything to you or provided any demands?
Is anyone injured? If there are confirmed injuries, we want to know where the victims are located and how many there are. We can then relay this information to responding medical personnel so they can appropriately prepare, stage and get the right resources in place after the police have taken care of the threat.
Again, not all of the above questions will be asked in the order provided. If certain information is already obtained from previous callers, we may ask other callers to confirm or elaborate on certain aspects of what is occurring.
A critical piece of information to always remember is to never provide information to a dispatcher that is assumed. Always provide only what you know even if it’s only a little bit of information. We will use any information that you can provide to best respond to the situation.
In any type of emergency situation it is appropriate to phone 9-1-1 with updates or initial details to aid in the response of emergency personnel responding. It’s important to remember that for any type of follow up or to obtain updated information to call the police department at 441-4060 to ensure that all emergency lines are left open for incoming emergency calls.
Toward a safer Eureka.
Katie Hill, Senior Dispatcher
Katie Hill is a senior dispatcher with the Eureka Police department and has been with the department for five and a half years. She recently completed a SWAT Tactical Dispatch Course through POST and is a newly appointed tactical dispatcher. She is looking forward to assisting in educating the public on how to better prepare for low frequency/high profile calls.