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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 | 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.

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