News : 911 Operators Facing Same Mental Health Risks As Police, Paramedics
Winkler, MB, Canada, Nov, 2019 -- Robert Stewart, Director of the Emergency Communications at Manitoba Provincial 911 is dispelling myths surrounding the emergency dispatch.
A recent story describes how a woman called 911 in the U.S asking to order a pizza in an attempt to alert authorities without tipping off her abuser in the room.
Stewart says a popular urban myth suggests 911 operators know a caller ordering a pizza is code to request police assistance without being able to speak openly. In the recent news report, Stewart says it wasn't the "code" but rather that operators were attentive to the caller's tone and inflection.
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"Our operators are trained to recognize voice inflection, odd conversations that could indicate a dangerous situation," he explains.
Operators at the call centre in Brandon receive ten months of training, one phase in fire dispatch and another in police dispatch with a hybrid of class time and practicum.
While there is no international "code" to speak to 911 operators, Stewart says the best place to start is by calling on a landline, which gives authorities the most accurate location of the caller in case of a hang-up or disconnect. Cell phones, he notes, can be less accurate through triangulation.
"Landline first, cell phone if you don't have a landline available, know where you are, and be insistent. If you can't talk and answer questions directly be insistent about what it is you're asking, like this lady on the phone with the subject she chose, pizza," Stewart says. "Staff should be able to help you out with whatever you need."
He adds people working in public safety communications face the same mental health risks and PTSD as police officers, firefighters, and paramedics.
"Nobody phones 911 when they're happy, and 911 staff doesn't get closure... there's mental health implications in the work that we do," he says. "But my staff, they know the risks and they're dedicated to public safety and helping their community."
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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