Monday, April 15, 2013

Celebrate National Dispatcher Week this week: 14-20 APR 2013

Me at work, holding my children's book

It's National Dispatcher's Week. Hug a dispatcher if you have a chance. J All right, the unknown voice on the line wouldn't mind a letter or a simple "thank you," either.

I'm a 911 dispatcher for LAPD and it's a job I find personally rewarding. Being a 911 dispatcher, I know I'm the first 1st responder to the problem. I've got to get the information quickly and accurately to send the help you need. Sometime it's not so easy.

In 1991, President George H.W. Bush signed the first bill declaring  the 2nd week in April "National Telecommunicators (dispatcher) week. This week in LA we're opening up the doors at our downtown dispatch center and inviting the public in to learn what it's like to be a dispatcher. 

911 is intended for emergencies, specifically for police, fire, and paramedic dispatch. It's not for a caller to ask for the time, pranks (we get these a lot from pay phones at high schools when they let out for the day) weather checks, ordering a pizza, complaining about heavy traffic, or even complaining about your hamburger not being cooked the way you like it. Trust me, I've heard all of these and then some. My favorite? Answering the phone with: "911 Emergency, Operator 806" and the next thing I hear is a flushing toilet.

So how did 911 come about?

In the US, about 42 years ago, but the concept has been around much longer than that and there's no simple answer. In the UK, they started using "999" as a National Emergency number in 1937. Canada began using an emergency number in 1959. It started off as "999" but switched to "911" when the US went to "911."
My son, Joe, at the dispatcher center w/Dana 
In the US, prior to the 1950's, one had to dial an operator to place a call so if you had an emergency, the operator would patch you through. Then rotary phones with dial tone were introduced. In 1957, a presidential commission recommended creating a single emergency number. The FCC worked with AT&T and 911 was born. On Feb 16, 1968, the first 911 call was made.

Question: Who answers a 911 call?

Answer: Dispatchers work at a Public Safety Answering Point (known as a PSAP). Once we identify the problem, we direct the call to the appropriate resource: police, fire or paramedics.

Question: When I call 911, do you get my location?

Answer:  Most of the time, but that's not an easy question to answer.  Consider this:

If you're calling from a landline phone, 99% of the time, the dispatcher will your location accurately. This comes from a "trunk" line established between your phone company and the PSAP.

However if you have VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) you could be calling in Scotland and get LAPD 911.  How is that possible? The connection with the PSAP isn't being made with a trunk line, but a broadband Internet line, and that line can originate ANYWHERE.  The Internet doesn't dedicate lines to go to your local PSAP.

Now, say you have a CELL PHONE – when you call on a cell phone I get either the nearest cell phone tower the cell phone is using, or a location within 500 meters of the phone. I don't get your actual location.

That's why it's so important for me as a 911 dispatcher to get the location of the emergency VERBALLY from the caller.

Question: Can I send a text to 911?

Answer: Right now, no, but currently, that is something the phone companies are working on and it might be possible in the future.

Question: Can I call 911 from a disconnected phone?
Julia Cesena, Supervisor of the Year, CPRA 2013
Answer: Yes. In the US and Canada a disconnected phone will dial 911. (But it won't give location information)  (As long as that phone has power, it will call 911 only, no power, no call)

Question: How is 911 funded?

Answer: Depending on your location, cities and counties may charge a fee in addition to federal fees. These fees vary and are listed on your phone bill you get from the phone company.  My fee for my landline bill is $10.00 a month. Cell phone companies also charge a fee.

Question: When I call 911 what do I say?

Answer: Be prepared to give your location, your phone number, and tell the operator in a COHERENT fashion what the problem is. It is hard to determine what help to send if you keep crying.

I've been a dispatcher for LAPD now for 13 years. It's a job I enjoy. I don't take it home with me, and I get a lot of personal satisfaction knowing that I was able to help people who genuinely needed help. Rarely do I hear "good job," "atta-girl," or receive recognization for staying on the phone with the caller during a harrowing situation. The police and fire officers who respond usually get the "atta-boys" and they deserve to, but this week, if you have a chance let the first 1st Responder, the unsung hero who answered your call know you appreciate them.

Have a coffee and a nip of chocolate for me.

Author Bio: Stephanie Burkhart is a 911 dispatcher for LAPD. She writes paranormal, contemporary, and steampunk romance as well as children's books. She's addicted to coffee and adores a good piece of chocolate. She's also a boy scouting mom and owns a golden name Amelia. 


  1. Stephanie, thanks for all you do! I've toured a call center here and seen for myself the stress involved in dealing with 911 calls. You perform a valuable service not only for the public, but also for first responders. Kudos to you!

    1. Melanie, thanks for stopping by. Yes, it can be a very stressful job, but writing I think helps me to not retain it. Writing keeps me sane.


  2. Keep doing a great job - it's funny but because I grew up in England my first thought would be to dial 999 - I'd have to consciously think what I was doing!
    Angela Britnell

    1. Angela,

      I imagine it can be disconcerting at times. :)

  3. Stephanie,
    You are the crucial link to those in the field and they depend on you. Your advice to give LOCATION is so important because response time to those in need can save lives. I send a great, big Atta Girl!

    1. Thanks for popping in, Nancy. A lot of people who call in ASSUME that the screen automatically populate with the location. That's simply not the case.

      I had one guy call in and say there was a loud party across the street and could I send the police? I said, "Yes, what's your location?"

      "Don't you have it on your screen?"

      Me: No, I don't.

      CALLER: I'm not giving you my location?

      Me: This is a call that the police will respond to, but I need your location.

      CALLER: You have my location on your screen.

      ME: No, I don't.

      CALLER: I don't believe you.

      Me: I'm not lying. If you want me to send the police, I need your location.

      The caller hung up. Did I have his location? No, I did not. The screen did not populate with his information because he called our non emergency line and the non emergency line does not have a truck line.


  4. Steph--let me be one of those who might say "Atta girl!" or "Good job!" I've never called 911 in my life, and I hope I never have to. You provide a life-saving service, and you're the only 911 operator I've ever know.
    I am truly impressed.

    1. Celia, thank you, I hope you never have to call 911 either, but if you do, remember - location first. :)


  5. Thank you for a wonderful and very important job you do! I've always wanted to know the answers to many of these questions. You really do have to be investigators and find out the problem and what needs to happen.

    Thank you again!

    1. Melissa,
      Thanks for stopping by. A lot of people ask these questions when we do community events, too. A lot of people know to call 911 but not what to do once they do.


  6. This was a great post. I'd never really thought about the logistics of 911. Thanks for all you do!

  7. Bless your heart for what you do for the public. I can well imagine the stress this type of job can bring, but knowing you might save a life when you answer the phone has to be rewarding as well. Hugs, Stephanie.

  8. I have a feeling your 911 call center is way bigger than mine is!

  9. Happy Dispatcher's offer a service to everyone, and are the first people to hear about an emergency. How talented you are to be able to handle calls from distressed people who may not communicate clearly because of shock, etc.