The frontline behind the scenes
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But in the early and sometimes very confusing stages of a priority incident like the shooting of officers on June 19, the communicators and dispatcher have vital roles.
Sitting in front of a computer, a dispatcher is absorbing a range of information coming in from the communicators (who on June 19 were taking calls and inputting information from the public who had seen or heard the shooting) and also from field staff.
The dispatcher then manages the police response to the incident, making rapid decisions about what support is needed, how many units to send, whether to call in Eagle or dog handlers or the armed offenders squad, what equipment is needed, and how to keep both officers and the public safe.
The dispatcher is making important decisions, including threat assessments, while often working with incomplete or confusing information. You can only go on the information coming in. A witness can ring in and report something, but sometimes they are not sure what they are seeing, or an incident can start as one kind of event and then develop into something else.
When an officer arrives at any event, a countdown clock starts on the dispatcher’s screen. After a predetermined time, depending on the event type, an alarm sounds, reminding the dispatcher to check on the officer’s safety.
In a serious incident, the dispatcher’s training will click in. Certain personality traits also help.
They need to be able to focus and be resilient. They are dealing with a lot of people, information and tasks, and need to be able to multi-task. Sometimes they can have more than 120 units logged into their screen.
Big incidents will always stay with communications centre staff, and often in quiet moments they may reflect on the day and certain calls or incidents and ask themselves, “Did I do what I am supposed to?”
Each person has their own way of coping and they need to work out what is good for them after any critical event. Police has got better over the years at recognising the impact on comms staff of the jobs they do.
When a big event occurs, all staff are very conscious of what has happened and it makes them hyper-aware of the job they are doing. The reality is it can mean life and death.
They are dealing with a lot of people, information and tasks, and need
to be able to multi-task. Sometimes they can have more than 120 units logged into their screen.