Archived Story

‘What is your emergency?’

Published 3:51pm Monday, April 22, 2013

City, county communicators serve as first line of communication for those in need of help

It’s a scene of quiet calm. Papers are shuffled, and a keyboard clicks softly.

Then a call comes in.

“Tallapoosa County 911, what’s your emergency?”

There’s a flurry of activity. Radios come to life as police officers are dispatched and information travels back and forth. The keyboard clacks more quickly now, and monitors flash numbers and roads and terminology that would be unfamiliar to the common man.

This is the Tallapoosa County 911 office at the sheriff’s department, and the people on the other end of the line, the telecommunicators, spend every day bridging the gap between those who need help and the responders who can offer aid.

“We always like to recognize our dispatchers,” said Sheriff Jimmy Abbett. “They’re the heroes behind the scenes.”

National Public Safety Telecommunications Week, April 14–20, is a dedicated time to do just that.

“All of them should be commended – they are our unsung heroes,” Abbett said. “We try to train them in a professional way so they can provide emergency services as needed to our community.”

The county office dispatches to Dadeville, Camp Hill, Jackson’s Gap and New Site. A separate office dispatches for Alexander City.

“It can vary from a wreck to someone just calling and complaining that a dog is barking,” said Michelle Lovett with the Alexander City office.

And both offices receive bogus, non-emergency calls.

“A lady called at like 2 o’clock in the morning – she’d gotten to bed late, and she wanted us to call her and make sure she was up at 5 o’clock in the morning,” said Shanda Trussell with the county office.

Even those kinds of requests don’t always go unanswered.

“We told her that if we didn’t have calls of higher priority, and we had the opportunity to call her, we’d do our best,” Trussell said.

The Alexander City office, located in the police department, receives about 20,000 911 calls in a year.

“It’s rare for phones to not constantly be ringing,” Lovett said.

County dispatch has eight full time and one part time telecommunicator. City dispatch has eight full time and four part time.

The dispatchers said emergency calls can be stressful, but training helps you learn how to deal with them.

“Your emotions flow with those calls, but it’s important that they don’t know that,” Trussell said. “One of the biggest things that they teach us is that you can’t get upset with the caller. They need a voice of calm.”

And although the telecommunicators are always there will people need them, they said there are a number of misconceptions about what they do.

“People think we can answer a lot more of their legal questions that we actually can,” said Kate Dowling with the county office. “They’ll call and ask us about the divorce process or the eviction process.

“A lot of people call up here and as soon as you answer the phone they think they’re talking to a deputy or the sheriff.”

And Deborah Ray, dispatch supervisor, said people need a greater understanding of the important role telecommunicators play.

“I don’t think people realize just how much they actually are responsible for here,” Ray said. “They’re very dedicated to their work. They do a fantastic job.”