What is 911Now?
911 dispatchers are the critical first point of contact in an unfolding crisis. In an era of rapid advances in communications technology and evolving recognition of cultural sensitivities, it’s time to update and improve our nation’s 911 emergency call techniques.
911Now is an innovative psychology-based program for supplemental training of 911 dispatchers, whether they are new to the position or already on the job. The 911Now program incorporates pioneering research-based insights on how to most quickly gather vital information from callers who are struggling with a potent mixture of panic, anxiety and stress.
One of 911Now’s main goals is to enhance the “empathy quotient” felt and expressed by emergency dispatchers, thereby achieving the core objective of obtaining fast and accurate facts about the caller’s emergency. 911Now teaches that an appropriate level of dispatcher empathy can calm distraught, distracted callers and improve the dispatcher’s prospect of quickly obtaining crucial data. Calmer callers and faster retrieval of information means shorter response times.
Dispatcher empathy can be over- as well as under-expressed: the 911Now approach teaches operators to seek an effective balance between “uninvolved” objectivity and “diversionary sympathy” when talking with distressed callers. Achieving such balance starts with recognition that, in dialing 911, a caller may be having the worst day of his or her life. Witnessing a violent event, or an injured person, can generate panic including a racing heart, shortness of breath, dizziness, nausea, and actual physical pain. In these circumstances, even well-known facts (e.g., the location of the incident) may escape a caller’s memory. Impressions and perceptions of events become distorted, incomplete, jumbled. A dispatcher’s attempt to control the conversation by demanding the caller “calm down” is likely to have the opposite effect, convincing the caller that the dismissive sounding dispatcher isn’t listening and pushing them into further distraction. A dispatcher unaware of these phenomena, and lacking the training for how to deal with them, may squander precious seconds or minutes fruitlessly questioning an emotionally rattled caller.
911Now trains dispatchers to recognize the various signs of caller distress and to respond by establishing a professional-yet-compassionate “phone-side manner.” This should not be seen as an indulgence or needless courtesy. Training a 911 dispatcher to skillfully manage the emotions of a distressed caller can often be the only way to obtain life-saving information quickly.
A major component of the 911Now program is frank acknowledgment that 911 dispatchers – like their callers – can experience the powerful emotional effects of stress as well. Dispatchers may not have directly witnessed a tragic event, or feared their own safety – but they are repeatedly exposed to unfiltered accounts of such events. Potentially adding to their anxiety is the dispatcher’s knowledge that they are responsible for directing the right lifesaving emergency resources to the right place while the clock is ticking. This can – and too often does – create stresses on dispatchers that can diminish their capacity to work efficiently. It can lead to burn-out and even push the most experienced dispatcher to quit the job. The unique 911Now program, with its innovative, hands-on, participatory training teaches dispatchers how their stress can impair effective communication and thwart rapid, accurate dispatch. Dispatchers will learn valuable techniques for recognizing and coping with their own anxiety.
911Now cannot change the inherent nature of emergency dispatch work – but it can teach dispatchers methods for coping with both their own stress and that of their client-callers. The 911Now team has developed a program of instruction for 911 dispatchers which stresses the vital, but under-appreciated, role they hold in community safety. The program emphasizes the importance of really listening to a caller’s emotional state, and responding so as to reassure the caller that his or her message is being received.
The stakes are simply too high to permit callers and dispatchers to talk at cross-purposes. 911Now is dedicated to teaching dispatchers how to truly communicate with their client-callers rather than just rapid fire talking to them. Because so much depends on competent and reliable 911 dispatcher performance, the hiring and training of appropriate candidates is essential. If a dispatcher is perceived by callers as disinterested or lacking in empathy tragedy can result.
The 911Now approach offers psychology-driven tools to strengthen America’s existing 911 emergency call providers. With 911Now’s innovative program, emergency call centers can be confident that their dispatchers have been provided the latest in effective and sound training, based on relevant psychological research.
Stress may be an inescapable part of life – but it need not prevent essential work from getting done. Let us know if 911Now can help you in your vital work.
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