9-1-1 Operators Face Emergency

By: Erin Tate
By: Erin Tate

"I love my job and stress is just a part of it and I try not to let it get to me," said Shannon Johnson, a 9-1-1 operator in Shenandoah County's emergency operation center.

On a normal 12-hour day, she juggles 500 emergency calls from 17 jurisdictions and seven state agencies. With such a stressful workload, it's no surprise that nationwide, not many people stay in this business.

In Shenandoah County, only three of its 17 operators have more than three years of experience.

"Most communication centers and not just Shenandoah County are managed around the fact that the turnover rate is so high. Let's just assume we're going to lose people. And one of my goals is to create an environment where people want to develop a career in communications," said Shenandoah County Fire and Rescue Department Coordinators Gary Yew. He has a strategy for doing just that.

In addition to a new computer-aided dispatch system, he's gotten the county to approve four additional hires. Next, Yew would like to see their salaries increased. He says communication staffers have the most important job within county government.

"What we forget is these communication folks are our true first responders. They set the tone for the incident. They're responsible for getting critical information that fire and rescue and law enforcement needs," said Yew.

Shenandoah County hopes to have its four new dispatchers on the job by Feb. 1. And it's still waiting on the governor's budget announcement this Friday to approve a five percent salary increase.

Elsewhere in the Valley, Harrisonburg and Rockingham County are looking to consolidate their joint emergency operation center within the next year. That will enable operators to be more efficient and will reduce response times.

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911 Emergency Facts

  • The first city in the U.S. to implement 911 was Haleyville, Ala. in 1968.

  • Nationwide, about 75 percent of the calls to 911 are deemed non-emergencies."

  • When calling for assistance, be as descriptive as possible.

  • You can ask for your identity to be confidential and the call taker will make a notation.

  • Many people believe that using the 10-digit number to reach a police or fire agency, during an emergency, will be more effective than using 911, however dialing the extra digits will only delay response time.

  • In case of a fire or medical emergency always dial 911.

  • If the situation requires a fire or paramedic crew, but is not an emergency, use the 10-digit number.

  • If ever unsure of the severity of a situation, always use 911.

  • Many police and fire agencies use an enhanced computer screen that automatically puts the caller's address and phone number in front of the dispatcher. An example of this is in Littleton, Co.

Source: Collection of web reports

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