Dispatchers – often referred as "the backbone of public safety" – have to possess a long list of skills to make it in their line of work.
"Emergency dispatchers do life-saving work which is wonderfully rewarding, but carries enormous responsibility of making split-second decisions during a critical time," said Alcorn County E911 Director Kim McCreless. "They are the lifeline between the public and emergency responders in the field."
Dispatchers spend usually a 12-hour shift answering multiple emergent and non-emergent lines, sending fire and medical responders and dispatching law enforcement officers.
"You have to be very caring and make sacrifices," added McCreless, a 19-year veteran. "It's something that gets in your blood."
The local 911 director said only two to three percent of people who apply to a be dispatcher have the ability to do the job.
Some can't handle the stress.
"Studies show many 911 and public safety communications personnel leave the job after only a few years," said McCreless. "They find out it's a job that is very stressful and demanding … most can't reasonably stay in the job due to strain it puts on their health."
Sherry Bates left her dispatching job only to return.
"My other job wasn't as exciting," said the 18-year veteran. "I really missed being here and what I did."
"Some of our dispatchers have taken a break only to return," added McCreless.
Annalese Burns has been employed at the 911 office for six years. She and fellow dispatcher Selina Hastings recently went above the call of the job. After taking a call about a child swallowing some paint thinner, the two dispatchers headed to Regional Medical Center (The Med) in Memphis, Tenn., to check on the family.
"They got the child to Magnolia Regional Health Center and didn't know if she was going to make it," said Burns. "As soon as Selina and I got off, we picked up some snacks and items for the child's mom and visited her at the hospital."
The child made a full recovery.
"It doesn't end here," added McCreless. "Our dispatchers truly care about people."
Calls do not always end on a happy note.
"There are some tough ones," said the director. "At times our dispatchers have fielded calls of people who commit suicide while they are on the line."
Alcorn County has 11 full-time and four part-time 911 emergency dispatchers. Each one works a 12-hour shift either 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. or 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Local emergency dispatchers use the latest technology to process about 7,000 calls per month. Some of the systems used by the Alcorn County 911 Center include:
• Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) – used for call taking, dispatching, person look-up, reports and warrants.
• Zetron Telephone System – computer based phone system used on all work stations.
• Zetron Radio System – computer based radio system on all work stations used for communicating with Alcorn and surrounding counties along with emergency weather notification sirens.
• National Crime Information (NCIC) – computerized index of criminal justice information available at all work stations.
• Notepager – computerized paging system at all work stations used to dispatch all volunteer fire departments in the county and emergency management.
• 911 Database – at each work station, the database is comprised of information related to all structures and citizens of Alcorn County which is used to assist in dispatching emergencies.
• TEAC Recorder – computerized recording system which records all incoming and outgoing telephone calls and radio transmissions.
• National Warning System (NAWAS) – used for weather and HAZMAT notifications.
• CodeRed – an Internet based emergency notification system on all work stations that notifies the public of an event or county-wide emergency.
Those interested in getting into the professional field are required the skill set such as: active listening, speaking, critical thinking, social perceptiveness, coordination, service orientation, reading comprehension, monitoring, active learning, complex problem solving, judgment and decision making, time management, writing, instructing, persuasion, negotiation, operation monitoring, learning strategies, management of personnel resources, systems analysis, operation and control and operations analysis.
"It takes a personal commitment of the mind and talent to help the people we serve," said McCreless. "It takes a special person to do the job."