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Calm during the storm: National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week

Roberts assists dispatchers at the Wadena Counthy Sheriff's Office from her office at the Wadena Police Department. Michael Denny/Wadena Pioneer Journal1 / 3
Dispatchers have to constantly multi-task and remain calm in some of the most stress inducing situations. 2 / 3
Sharon Roberts, Secretary/Dispatcher, Wadena Police Department Michael Denny/Wadena Pioneer Journal3 / 3

No one wants to call 911, it's a last resort, a crucial SOS, and all too often a critical communication that could prevent death. Everyday, emergency calls bombard law enforcement dispatch offices. Frantic calls for help, car accidents, burglaries, and virtually every dangerous situation is usually filtered through the dispatcher. National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week is devoted to the celebration of dispatchers across the country.

The week long event started on April 14 and ended April 20. The emphasis of the week is to draw attention to the hard work of dispatchers who often go unseen in the midst of crises. They are the voice that cuts through the mayhem. Everyone expects that voice to be there during their worst day.

Members of law enforcement took to social media to praise the work of area dispatchers. The Wadena County Sheriff's Office posted on Facebook, "Our dispatchers, along with others across the country, work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. If you call for help, someone will answer and get you the help you need. We want to take this time to give a big thank you to our dispatchers for the Wadena County Sheriff's Office, as well as ALL dispatchers for the incredible job they do. A dispatcher is often times the first person you talk to in an emergency and most times the only person you don't see. Please help us in thanking a dispatcher this week (and every day beyond this week)!"

911 calls made in and around Wadena find there way to the dispatch office at the Wadena County Courthouse. Dispatcher, Erika Penner has been taking the call for 21 years. She has received so many varied calls over the years she could write a book on the art of emergency information gathering. She states that the hardest part of the job is "being the calm on the other end of the call for the officers when things are going crazy."

According to Penner there are training courses for people interested in becoming a dispatcher but they do not require them. New employees in the position do have to complete job training at the local dispatch office. Currently, they have eight full time dispatch spots. Many of the dispatchers also double as a jailer.

Being a dispatcher isn't for everyone. The job easily tops the list of most stress inducing careers. "We are like a tight knit family down here and usually talk things over after calls and just talk about them to see how we feel and what we could have done different or what we did great," Penner said. Penner went on to explain that calls involving children always hit the hardest.

Sharon Roberts is the Secretary/Dispatcher for the Wadena Police Department. She has been employed in the position since May, 2000. She has the difficult job of relaying information to Wadena officers. She explained that most calls go directly to the Wadena County Sheriff's Office. The dispatch office handles the call but she can take over to provide assistance. "WCSO can work together as WCSO can create the call and I can take it over to allow the WCSO dispatcher to continue answering 911 calls," stated Roberts.

According to Roberts, "Answering calls for individuals on their worst day can be a challenge in getting all the information such as who, what, where and when." The job does have an emotionally gripping side to it. Roberts described one of the most difficult calls she ever received as a homicide that occurred in 2016. She had to spend time with one of the family members until law enforcement arrived.

Dealing with stress is a constant priority in such a position, Roberts handles the tension by simply taking a breath and speaking calmly. Clear communication combined with simple language make calls vastly more efficient.

As dispatcher week draws to a close, local law enforcement encourages everyone to take a few minutes to thank a dispatcher. There concise communication could be the difference between life and death.