The week of April 14th through the 20th is “National 911 Telecommunicator Week,” an opportunity to recognize and thank those persons who spend a great deal of their time answering emergency calls at communications centers across the country.
Cass County 9-1-1 Director Rob Koppert was manning the 9-1-1 Center Saturday morning, in Atlantic. (Ric Hanson/photo)
Cass County 911 Director Rob Koppert says the dispatchers in the Comm Center receive a variety of calls. They include emergency and calls from land-lines and cell phones, along with non-emergency, administrative-type calls. After hours, those same 9-1-1 operators answer calls for the Atlantic Police Department and Sheriff’s Office. Those calls are coordinated with the various law enforcement and fire/rescue departments within the county. Koppert says 9-1-1 operators, especially those in Cass County, have years of experience, which allows them to deal with many types of stressful situations.
He says “It really takes a special person to do this job. You have to have a ‘thick skin’ because you’re dealing with every type of person out there in every type of stressful situation.” Many times, callers’ emotions are high, they scream and yell, or don’t know where they are at, because of the prevalence of cellular technology. Koppert says dispatchers have to know how to handle those calls, “Without getting involved emotionally or personally involved,” and so the stress doesn’t affect how they handle their job. He says all of the dispatchers in Cass County have served for five-years or longer, which is phenomenal, because the typical turnover in the business is every two- to three-years. Some of the dispatchers in the County have served for as many as 16-years.
The main thing to keep in mind if you are calling for help, according to Koppert, is to try and remain calm, and answer the dispatcher’s questions, without providing a gamut of information from the moment your call is answered. He says the dispatchers are trained to ask questions in a certain order, which will enable them to send the appropriate, closest help to the scene. The first question is “Where is the situation located?” Koppert says that’s a key component of any call, because that’s where the help is going to go. That’s especially true if you are calling on a cell phone, because there are times when your cell will not indicate where you are. They will also want to know who is involved, and as much detail as possible, in the order their questions are asked. They will also ask for your callback number, especially if it’s a cell phone.
The technology he says is constantly changing, and will eventually allow cell phone users to send text messages with regard to emergencies, and even pictures at the scene. It’s known as “Next Generation 9-1-1.” He says those newer technologies will require the County to hire additional staff for its 9-1-1 Center. Between now and July, a total of three new dispatchers will have been hired to handle the call volume, bringing the number of dispatchers in the County, to six. Koppert says Cass County has “Some of the best operators” in the State of Iowa, and he’s thankful for their work, along with those persons at State Radio, near Lewis. He says if you know a dispatcher, “Tell them ‘Thank you, and give them a pat on the back, because they really, really deserve it.”