How Are 911 Operators So Relaxed During Emergency Calls?

Why are the people who answer 911 calls so relaxed?: originally appeared on Quora: The best answer to any question. Ask a question, get a great answer. Learn from experts and access insider knowledge. You can follow Quora on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.


Answer by Rhonda Mitchell, 10 years of experience with LAPD as a 9-1-1 operator and at the front desk of many divisions

There is something unsettling about answering 9-1-1 calls. For seconds you are privy to what probably are the worst moments in someone's life. The first year of the job is an adrenaline rush. Every call came with a tiny electric shock, with the tone and pitch of the voices on the line swinging between desperation and bullshit.

It took a year of training to prepare you to differentiate. The next year you got used to being called a bitch, a motherfucker, a 'ho'. The year after that domestic violence and suicides became commonplace. You accept 'fuck you' in place of good-bye and the adrenaline doesn't pump just because you hear a gunshot or a woman getting her ass beat; there isn't much you haven't heard. Your ears are finely tuned, your instincts are honed. This is your job and you're proud when you do it well. You have seen and heard enough to earn a thirty-minute set at a cocktail party. My stint always began with the story of my first call, after an audience asks at least three times if I would tell them a story after learning what I did for a living.

It was after my first call on a live system I learned why it was essential for me to remain calm. The call was intense and after it was over my instructor, a Black woman who described herself as piss colored and wore her chestnut colored hair in some sort of modified beehive, crossed her legs and leaned into the space between us.

"Put your console on hold and listen to me. Their emotion is not your emotion. You're not there, no one is beatin' your ass. You're down here, safe. Now don't get caught up with what's goin' on the other side of that line, 'cause when you do, you're no good to anyone, do you understand me? Not that woman screaming or the officers out in the field. So what? She was screaming. Get the information you need for the officers so they can get there and help her and hang up the phone. Now go take a break."

This shit was real. My very first call, a woman was stabbed by her live-in, I don't know if she lived or died, and that's just part of the job, not knowing.

No one aspires to be a dispatcher; the job is tedious, stressful, and you're not paid well enough. For me, being a dispatcher is where I ended up, it was like a traffic signal repairman, or a meter reader, no one says that's what they want to be when they grew up. Besides me there were air traffic controllers that refused to return to work after Reagan ordered them to and underpaid LAUSD teachers. I ended up here while I tried to finish a degree and plenty of prompting by my Southern born parents who believed that civil service was honorable work that provided an equal playing field, medical benefits and job security. I believed them.

As a dispatcher, there is a script that you follow, and while I am talking to a caller, I'm typing (I type as fast as you can talk), I'm keying my mike and sending units and I'm connecting you to the paramedics if you need them. I'm listening while you talk to the paramedics, I assure you I'm still on the line. I tell you what I'm doing, I'm listening to you and to what's going on around you. Sometimes you don't hear me, because the phone has dropped, someone is yelling, or you're yelling at me. I understand that and I keep doing my job. The more information I can glean, the more information I can give to the responding officers and/or paramedics, the better it is for everyone involved. My job is to get the help there and make sure everyone goes home.

Every police department has different standards for their dispatchers, what I do know is that while I was employed with a large metropolitan police department, we set the standard. People are human and the job is hard and it doesn't always attract the most empathetic people. I hope this helps you understand.

More questions on Quora: