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911: Call-takers need common sense, empathy

Letter by Molly Kathleen Howard, Tacoma on Feb. 9, 2012 at 4:48 pm with 4 Comments »
February 10, 2012 11:59 am

Re: “Call-takers criticized for 911 calls in Powell tragedy” (TNT, 2-9).

The training supervisor of Pierce County’s 911 support center makes sense in her defense of the way 911 call-takers are “supposed to sound.” They obviously need to remain calm, focused and able to persevere through verbal chaos on the other end of the line while obtaining necessary information to assist the caller.

But her explanation of using “slight Type-A personalities” provides insight into the use of folks who also may come from a typical black-or-white approach to their duty. I realize that this is an incredibly stressful job and that there are sometimes split seconds to make important decisions based on minimal available information.

The call-taker in the Powell situation who digressed in his call with the social worker with, “Wait a minute. If it’s a supervised visit, you can’t supervise yourself if you are the visitor,” demonstrated a lack of basic social service systems operation knowledge in addition to having what may be an argumentative personality trait.

The 911 call center employees, in the long run, may be most effective in following their cue cards and operating from an informational and conversational script, but they also need to show adaptability and awareness of the most critical information to obtain in a particular situation.

It is easier to teach self-control and an ability to remain calm to non-Type-A personalities than it is to teach common sense, empathy and critical thinking.

Leave a comment Comments → 4
  1. ReadNLearn says:

    Nah, all that about personality types and such is a smoke screen. This is a dispatcher too dense to understand how sensitive and dangerous a supervised visit is and the roles of the people when the woman making the call was quite clear. This isn’t a matter of training, you can’t train away stupid.

  2. Hey ReadNLearn!!!!! You seem to be well versed on how the job should be done, why don’t you go do it?

  3. elderjustice2010 says:

    Another dismal failure by Pierce County law enforcement officials.

  4. mollykathleenhoward says:

    I watched the dispatcher interviewed on a couple of national TV shows over the weekend. He has had many years experience at his job and spoke to the issue of knowing who josh powell was but not realizing the call was about him. He has probably lost sleep over this but at least he does not have to live with the responsibility that what happened was his fault. The timing was all very close and maybe if help had arrived earlier more folks would have died. Josh also attacked with the hatchet immediately after the boys entered the home.

    I worked in healthcare for many years and every now and then something would happen that reminded me to stay on my toes; I may have been good at what I did, and certain patient complaints usually indicated certain problems, but every so often this wasnt the case and I was reminded not to be lax in my assumptions. I hope the dispatcher is able to take something helpful away from his experience, yet not blame himself for the greater tragedy that was not his fault. Josh did this unspeakable act.

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