911 call takers play a crucial role in deciding when to send police alternatives : NPR

For decades, 911 call takers have had three main options: send emergency medical responders, fire and police. A fourth option is becoming increasingly common: a mental health professional who responds to some calls instead of police. A study released this March found that 44 of the largest U.S. 50 cities now have an alternative response program, many of which don’t involve police at all.

As more cities deploy these new responders, the decision of when to use them usually rests with already stressed 911 workers.

In a survey of 911 professionals last year, more than 80 percent of respondents said their facility was understaffed. Almost the same amount said they regularly deal with burnout and anxiety.

Full story: 911 call takers play a crucial role in deciding when to send police alternatives : NPR

10 Replies to “911 call takers play a crucial role in deciding when to send police alternatives : NPR”

  1. Labeling 911 call takers as first responders recognizes their crucial role as frontline providers of emergency assistance. Their job description quite literally matches the term ‘first responders’, as they are always the first to be made aware of the scene. They’re often the initial point of contact in critical situations, and their responses can quite literally mean life or death for the caller. Not only that, but as the article states, labelling them as first responders would not only gain more respect for the job, but it also allows them benefits like mental health support, which I think should be one of the main benefits offered to call takers.

    1. Hey Jirah, I really agree with the points you’re making, being a 911 call taker can be a heavy and often traumatizing job. Being able to provide resources to them would be very crucial to ensuring that this important job can be continued and allow them to have more respect and comfort than before. By honoring and protecting these call takers, the community can be stronger and we can have more resources available.

    2. Labeling 911 call takers as first responders acknowledges their pivotal role as frontline providers of emergency aid. Their job title aptly reflects their position as the first to receive information about a scene, making them the initial point of contact in critical situations. The responses they provide can have life-or-death implications for callers. Additionally, as the article suggests, designating them as first responders not only garners more respect for their profession but also enables them to access essential benefits such as mental health support. Prioritizing mental health support for call takers should indeed be a primary consideration given the demanding nature of their work.

    3. I am in complete agreement with the fact that the 911 operators should be labeled first responders as they are quite literally the first individuals that have knowledge of what is happening in a particular situation. The job would have to be extremely stressful especially in choosing exactly what type of emergency team, whether it be EMS, fire, or police to send to each unique situation. I also am in support of having mental health professionals be an option for 911 operators to use to send to a situation, as I can think of many possibilities where this would be the best aid for those in an emergency.

  2. Providing 911 operators with the recognition they deserve not only benefits them as employees but also benefits society. Harper mentions the struggles she faces in her job as she deals with an overwhelming amount of stress as an operator, working long hours, and being underpaid. Recognition can help solve some of the problems making more people aware of the issue and allowing them the opportunity to speak out for change. 911 operators play a crucial role in the safety of those seeking help from potential danger. They work with law enforcement and have a crucial role in providing the law enforcement details of the event to find a solution to help the person.

    1. In my opinion getting recognition for your hard work may give you a temporary moral boost but reality is often disappointing as these individuals will still have long hours and high stress with underwhelming pay. What needs to happen is with this recognition there needs to be a new incentive put on becoming 911 operators similar to how there is incentive to become part of the military there needs to be a reason for becoming a 911 operator other than for one’s own personal reasons. That way more people would become 911 operators and the burden would be decreased on the personnel already performing that job. Either that or there has to be a pay increase in order to counter the high stress and long hours being a 911 operator but I feel as if that is every job in the US at this point. There is too much understaffing and too long of hours for mediocre pay.

  3. The NPR piece exposes the difficulties encountered by 911 operators nationwide, exposing a system in disarray as a result of understaffing, burnout, and insufficient assistance. Sara Harper’s experience is a prime example of the tremendous strain and emotional cost that come with playing such a crucial role. Even while helping people is fulfilling, a lot of call takers, including Harper, struggle with anxiety and eventually quit their jobs. The rise of alternative response programs, especially those that use mental health specialists rather than police, is indicative of a rising understanding of the need for structural reform. To make matters worse, call takers who are already under a lot of stress are frequently left with the responsibility of choosing when to use these resources. The 6,000 contact centers across the country have different protocols and no uniform training, which highlights how difficult it is to make decisions during emergency situations. It is possible to overlook important information, which could affect how crisis situations turn out. Furthermore, the safety risks for responders and alternate units underscore the necessity of all-encompassing plans that put public safety and employee welfare first. How can uniformity and efficacy be guaranteed throughout all call centers by establishing national standards for 911 call taker training and protocols? What other forms of support—aside from higher compensation—can be put in place to help 911 professionals who are experiencing burnout or mental health issues?

    1. Hey Stephanie your reply paints a good picture of the different struggles faced by dispatch callers nationwide, acknowledging strain with understaffing and lack of mental support. This article explains the emotional toll on these first responders, where despite the potential happiness of helping individuals, stress and anxiety can lead them into different career paths. This emergency brings light to more alternative ways of handling this problem. Yet this burden remains in understaffing and lack of mental support. Additional support systems can be vital in the future for these first responders and needs to be implemented more throughout the country.

  4. This shift towards incorporating mental health professionals as responders and emergency dispatch callers makes a significant step forward in addressing the different needs of our communities. With 44 out of 50 large cities incorporating ideas like this, it is evident that there’s a growing acceptance of how important these professionals are in handling these situations, particularly in a mental health crises. However, there still are first respondant workers who are dying for help. Efforts to help the mental health of these first responders are essential in ensuring the continued need of these first responders.

  5. I think that 911 call takers should be labeled as first responders and are crucial to their operations. I also think that it is important to take care of our 911 call takers. Their job is incredibly stressful and they deserve access to mental health professionals. Why has it taken so long for us to notice 911 call takers?

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