What it once was...

I was recently asked to write an article for the IAED regarding the topic of emergency dispatch in the year 2050 for a special addition of the Journal of Emergency Dispatch coming this April. The following is my response in the form of a seasoned dispatcher writing a journal entry to a dispatcher from the future.

For years emergency dispatchers have been on the sidelines. They were often forgotten to the point where when debriefings for high priority situations occurred, they were left behind. They were not out there on the scene so there was no reason to include them. Those of us within the trenches of the 9-1-1 center know that this is far from the truth. 9-1-1 dispatchers are the first to answer the call of duty and might not be physically there but mentally? Mentally, they are there from the beginning of the call to the end. The horrors of life stick with them and at one point and time they fought back and let everyone know how vital their job truly is and the toll it can take on their mind. Years have passed since 2016, a year that changed the way public safety, as well as, the general public saw the job of a 9-1-1 dispatcher. It was during those early years that dispatch was put into the spotlight. It was a new day…

Fast-forward to present day. It’s 2050 and the role of an emergency dispatcher has become even more vital. The 9-1-1 dispatcher of yesterday has evolved into an Emergency Communications Specialist (ECS) working in an Emergency Communications Center. Today’s technology is far more superior than that of 2016-2018. During that time location accuracy was on the rise and the race to save lives through apps on smart phones and technology baked into a service providers network were a hot topic. But as technology began to ramp up and public safety began to catch up with the time, we lost something. We lost the human touch. Dispatching is made up of common sense and being human. We lost that back then. Text-to-9-1-1 was really a no-brainer for when it was launched. The deaf and hard of hearing community cheered the implementation and launch but in dispatch, they were left to figure out how to compensate for lost abilities such as hearing background noises and tone of voice or even an extra voice.

Losing those human aspects hurt but they made it through and continued to flourish in a job that not many can do. Technology continued to expand and eventually the human aspects that were lost with simple emergency SMS (Short Message Service) were heightened by one hundred percent when this moved to emergency MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service.) This was the beginning of the evolution into becoming an ECS. Now they were able to see what was going on during an emergency situation. Rich data was flowing, data centers were added to house the number of images and videos coming into the ECC and emotions were high. Communication through text was no longer a test on whether or not an emoji could register to a centers text-to-9-1-1 platform to determine how one was feeling. Now, one could see exactly what was going on. Suicidal subjects sending images of themselves with a gun to a live video feed from someone threatening to shoot their spouse during a domestic violence incident. It was in your face and as always, dispatch, now an ECS, was the first to answer and deal with the emotions that come with it.

Those days were hard, but it made everyone stronger. The population continued to grow and so did everything else. The need for smart emergency services grew as well. See back then we were wasting resources trying to find someone who needed help. Public safety was constantly in the news for someone’s death due to their inability to locate them but while they were being dragged through the dirt the true culprit, those who provide those services such as the carriers were let go. They were not held accountable until the FCC stepped in and demanded better location and they listened. Start-ups jumped in and assisted with the effort and things got easier. Lives were saved and eventually the ability to predict where calls would occur was alive and well. Very few companies back then tried predictive dispatching by using heatmaps but now, it’s a way of life. An ECS can post up EMS in a hot spot and response time within a couple minutes versus ten to fifteen in cases back then. This link between the ECC and EMS responders has become a vital link in the chain of survival.

The Emergency Communications Specialist of 2050 has gone through many changes. With the senses turned up to one hundred back then came more issues. PTSD was starting to come out more and this was just from hearing a voice and relying on ones own imagination of what was going on at the scene. Some centers had critical incident stress management (CISM) teams to deal with hard calls but not all participated. With the introduction of images and videos being sent in came the breakdown of those who viewed them and sent them off to those responding in the field. More and more dispatchers were seeking help for the stress and mental breakdown of seeing people suffer. Centers had to change and change they did because in order for public safety to work it needed the most vital piece to be intact and healthy. Public safety needed its dispatchers more than ever. It truly was a new day. In 9-1-1, one of the things that can be a thorn is not knowing. Dispatchers back then would take a call and send out police, fire or EMS but what stressed them out the most was not knowing. Things have changed.

Now, an ECS knows everything and can pretty much see all of what is going on. It was not welcomed in the beginning. People fought against it because of the mental health aspect of it but what happened was that they felt better. Despite the harsh aspect that is 9-1-1 and that anything can happen at a moment’s notice, it was having closure that made it all better. This was the missing piece to mental health and wellness…knowing. Technology has allowed for an ECS to monitor public safety during an emergency incident and it has also taken the ECS into account where their levels of stress can be monitored by a supervisor. After a hard call an ECS may take a break to decompress in a number of ways. See, once public safety put dispatchers first back then, they were able to secure funds to pay more, focus on their health, and turn this into more of a career than it once was. Turn over rates dropped, excessive overtime was gone, and dispatch was finally taken care of.

For years emergency dispatchers have been on the sidelines. They were often forgotten, but now, they are the most vital piece of public safety. Truth be told, they always have been, but it took us a long time to get here. Technology has changed the face of how we provide emergency services. What was once a pipe dream became a movement and for years we fought and finally made it out on top. An Emergency Communications Specialist is far from what an Emergency Dispatcher used to be. We lost the human factor but gained it back with such a force that it seemed that it would break us down, however, we prevailed. We now embrace what was once the void of not knowing. We see and hear everything and though it might be hard on our mental health, it’s knowing that gives us closure and helps us process the outcome. Whether you lived through this the way I did, or you read this as someone from the future, know that we struggled and fought hard for you. Know that we have come a long way to put “dispatch” in the forefront of public safety but never forget what it once was…

Ricardo Martinez IIComment