Guest Op-Ed…..HELP 9-1-1

Contributed by Steve Souder, former Director, Fairfax County 9-1-1

It’s been twenty years since a concerted effort was launched, to have 9-1-1 dispatchers, the very first public safety personnel to be called when an emergency occurs…..and who then acquire critical information regarding the location, and provide life safety direction and/or pre-arrival lifesaving medical instructions, to those reporting the emergency. Dispatchers then, simultaneously dispatch Law Enforcement, Fire-Rescue and/or Emergency Medical Service units, to the location of the emergency…..and appraise responding units of information critical to the mission assigned, and for their personal safety… recognized as bonafide First Responders. Over this twenty-year period, some States, Counties and Cities, have formally recognized 9-1-1 dispatchers, as a legitimate part of the First Responder community, others have yet to do so.

Also, occurring over the past ten years, has been attempts to have the position of 9-1-1 Dispatcher, reclassified, within the Federal Government job classification system, from its current “Clerical” category…..Webster defines Clerical as “office clerks” and Clerks as “office worker who keeps records, etc.”, and “salesperson in a store”. The combined number of “clerks” in the US is 15 1/2 million. By comparison, there are 65,611 9-1-1 Dispatchers in the US, with many dispatcher positions vacant, because the job remains improperly classified, and thus under compensated, under benefitted, under recognized, and, because of the thousands of vacant positions, over-worked. These 65,611 9-1-1 dispatchers, (minus those vacant) respond…..Webster defines Respond as, to “answer” or “react”… the approximately 240 million 9-1-1 calls received annually, 20 million monthly, 666,000 daily, 27,000 hourly and 8 each second…..not the typical workload or responsibility of a “Clerical”, clerk or salesperson.

The crisis that now exists in staffing America’s 9-1-1 Emergency Communications Centers, has been years in the making, because of government bureaucracy, inaction, absence of political will, resistance by some groups, more visible-attention getting priorities, an out of sight-out of mind, mindset, absence of a strong, clear, unified and repetitive message, that highlights and addresses the crisis… a strong, united, respected coalition, of public safety communications and 9-1-1 associations, elected and appointed government officials, other first responder groups and the public, that are impacted by the crisis, every minute of every day.

Nine-One-One is the most recognized number in America, and the gateway through which all emergencies in the US, are reported and all public safety-first responder agencies are dispatched.

The endless repetitive cycle, in which it is challenging to recruit and hire, qualified individuals, investing time and resources to train them, only to have them drop-out, burn-out, wear-out or quit, to take more lucrative positions, with better salary, better work hours, better benefits, better working conditions, with less demand and responsibility…..must be stopped, before its impact on the safety and security of all communities in America…..large, small and in-between, are in jeopardy.

The position of 9-1-1 Dispatcher – is a noble, indispensable, demanding and highly gratifying, in which every day, many times a day, lives are saved by these, seldom seen…..Heroes Under a Headset, and to whom 336 million US residents rely…..24-7-365.

The nation’s 9-1-1 Emergency Communications Centers, and the 9-1-1 Dispatchers that staff them, are now in need of 9-1-1, as they struggle to staff 9-1-1, with way to few people. America must not let them down, they are the “First” Responder, and you are their first priority.

Steve Souder, former Director, Fairfax County 9-1-1

Editors Note:
Steve Souder has been a dear friend for more than a decade. Very few, if anyone in this industry has more respect, credibility, and passion for 9-1-1 and the people behind the call. It is not often I allow guest bloggers in this forum, and it is only by invitation. That is one rule that does not apply to Steve. He is welcome at any time, as he has earned that status over a long career that spans the entire history of modern emergency services.

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