Getting A Feel For Emergency Dispatch

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They are known as the "First, First Responders." They are Gila County Sheriff's emergency dispatchers and students in the GCSO Citizen Academy were given a taste of their daily responsibilities Wednesday night.

Trudy Cory is the office's administrative manager and oversees the dispatchers.

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Gila County Sheriff's Office emergency dispatcher Lisa Hicks has to be adept at remaining calm during a crisis and juggling many tasks at once. Students at the sheriff's office Citizens Academy got a glimpse into the life of the county's true first responders.

"Dispatchers are often the first contact people have with us," Cory said. "We are like reporters -- we ask who, what, when, where and why. The other thing we always have to ask about is weapons, because something we drill into our dispatchers from the beginning is that officer safety is paramount."

In the small dispatching room, there are several phone lines -- three of them 911 lines, six computers and a scanner to keep track of the many agencies with which the GCSO works.

Because Payson dispatch covers a huge area, providing directions to the deputies or rescue crews is critical.

"We are continuing to work on our new addressing system," Cory said. "We still have many communities to go before we are done."

The revamped addressing system is to help deputies respond in a timely manner.

When a phone rings at dispatch, it could be anything from a loose dog to a homicide and it can be very stressful, Cory said.

Dealing with crisis calls requires a great deal of skill, Cory said.

"Dispatchers have to always be courteous and use their own voice to control the call," Cory said. "When you talk slower, you can get the caller to talk slower. Operators will fit their language to the caller."

According to Cory, the type of call operators train for the most are the domestic disturbance calls.

"We are constantly training for domestic violence calls," Cory said. "We always ask if there are weapons, or if alcohol or drugs are involved. Because the response time may be up to 20 minutes, we ask the caller if she can go to a safe place such as a neighbor's home in the meantime."

The sheriff's office new computer aided dispatch (CAD) has been a remarkable advantage for the operators and administrative staff.

"CAD is so much more efficient," Cory said. "All calls for services and every piece of information is entered into the CAD system."

Another computer has the Automated Criminal Justice Information System (ACJIS). This is the nationwide computer system that contains all the entries made by agencies all over the United States.

"ACJIS gives us information of wanted persons and warrants," Cory said. "It also has missing and endangered persons and orders of protection."

GCSO Dispatcher Jim Daily recalls how things worked back in the late 1960s.

"To get MVD information, you had to call down to the Valley," Daily said. "They had all the information written on index cards -- it took a long time to get information -- now it takes seconds to get that information."

The radio is the centerpiece of the dispatch office.

"The radio is the first priority of a dispatcher," Cory said. "Like the phones, you can never leave the radio unattended."

Operators are required to check on officers every hour during the day and every half-hour at night."

Answering crisis calls, inputting information, checking the status of a subject, checking on the deputies, and dispatching for six fire departments is reserved for those who are experts at multi-tasking and able to remain calm amidst chaos.

Cory said it takes a particular kind of person to be a dispatcher.

"I have a great group of people," Cory said. "They do their job well and they take care of each other."

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