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Commissioner Steve Novick

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9-1-1 Twitter Takeover

This week is National Telecommunicators Week, an annual celebration of our first first responders: the dedicated calltakers and dispatchers who answer 9-1-1 calls and send fire, police, and medical help. Our calltakers and dispatchers are on the front lines of Portland’s emergency response network, and their role in keeping the public safe is easy to overlook.

As part of our celebrations, two City of Portland Bureau of Emergency Communications (BOEC) employees are taking over my Twitter account on Tuesday to give us a peek into a day in the lives behind the voices who answer our 9-1-1 calls. Since some of this language might be difficult to understand, we’ve included an explanation of some of the terms below.

(Content for this Twitter Takeover was written by BOEC calltakers who were on shift April 8-9, 2016. Some content was edited for formatting.)


Jammie Frank, Senior Dispatcher

About: I’ve been with BOEC for 4 years. Prior to BOEC, I was a 911 dispatcher in Texas for 9 years.  I live in North Portland with my audiophile husband, human like cat, and slightly senile senior dog. I am an avid collector of records and cute things. I spend my time away from BOEC drawing, painting and other crafty/artistic endeavors that I attempt to sell on the side under the name The Hard Luck Rabbit. When I’m not doing that, I’m petting my furry babies, watching the Gilmore Girls, listening to podcasts/comedians and occasional going to shows of the metal and punk genres. 

[5:15 AM]  Happy Monday! In for usual 2 hrs of overtime before my shift.

[5:16 AM]  Received forced slip for tmrw. Means I'll be late to our Employee Recognition Banquet. At least its just a 2 day work week thanks to trades!

[6:50 AM]  Call pulling on my heartstrings-- Elderly female upset bc sick/dying pet cat. Sweet caller: “If he dies, I die.” Never have I related more. 

[7:30 AM]  Very fortunate to use my downtime at service desk to finish up a project I’ve been working on for a coworker’s wedding.

[8:20 AM]  getting pretty sleepy but slightly afraid to try the new coffee concoction I made today…

[8:21 AM]  Stumptown’s Cold Brew + a dash (or heavy dash) of Chocolate Cashew Milk. It’s either going to be amazing, or too sweet.

[9:58 AM] Using my 1.25 hr break to nap in our Quiet Room. Up too late last nite making finishing touches on my donations to tmrw's banquet raffle

[11:15 AM] Tried to get overtime tmrw so I can use extra break to get to banquet on time. But numbers are one above minimum, so I wasn’t hired.

[2:39 PM]  Police/Medical Call: male in 50s attacked out of blue by 2 teens at max platform who were recording. Said it would be on youtube. Jerks.

[3:02 PM]  I’ve taken 3 calls in the last hour about dogs locked in hot cars.

[4:00 PM]  When I asked for the name of a restaurant my caller spelled K-A-L-E…… they must not realize we are Portlanders too, we know what kale is.

[5:00 PM]  Going home! I love that the last part of my shift is the busiest part, makes the time go by fast.

[7:00 PM]  received short notice overtime for tomorrow… My husband convinced me to get extra sleep and not volunteer for additional 2 hrs of overtime.

Aaron Willett, Senior Dispatcher

About: I’ve worked here just over two years and lived in Portland for eight. My shift is 5pm-3am. I’m originally from San Diego and enjoy caffeine, Star Trek, and nonfiction books. I dislike random street violence and lawnmowers.

[4:59 PM]  Fuel. Sunny day = more emergencies = 5 shots.

[5:15 PM]  Caller reporting someone in a car doing donuts. Police quickly en route to investigate.

[5:30 PM]  Subject swerves past caller, veers into a median, parks, and walks into a liquor store. Caller suspects DUI.

[6:38 PM]  Woman dyes hair blue in McMenamins bathroom, then moves outside to dig up some flowers. I hope she stuck with the winter theme.

[7:30 PM]  Report of two women speeding through a neighborhood on ATVs. Earthquake preparedness outreach is paying off.

[7:50 PM]  Woman calling from shoulder of freeway after boyfriend made her exit the vehicle. :(

[8:21 PM]  Woman at a diner with a racing heart from a marijuana cookie. What restaurant serves dessert first?

[9:05 PM]  I take my first breath of the day.

[9:40 PM]  Quiet in Gresham. Suddenly, everyone forgets how to drive and is pulled over by conveniently available officers.

[11:00 PM] Lunch. Working here, my Friday night free time consists of Netflix and games. So, the same things as my old Friday nights.

[12:53 AM] There’s a shooting in North, where I’m about to dispatch. I grumble to my coworkers, who offer a small bit of sympathy.

[1:51 AM]  Sergeant hears shots by North Precinct. Calls flow in. A dozen officers jump on. Suspect car glimpsed on Alberta, then lost.

[2:54 AM]  A nice coworker came over to let me out a few minutes early. Escaping before I'm forced over.

As with most professions, 9-1-1 dispatchers and calltakers use some shorthand language that the rest of us may not understand. With this in mind, here’s a brief primer about a few of the references:

  1. References to “force” and “forced over” mean mandatory overtime. “Trying to get hired for overtime” means volunteering for overtime in order to avoid mandatory overtime later. When dispatchers and calltakers accept their positions, they know they will need to work mandatory overtime because the City must have enough staff on hand to answer 9-1-1 calls. This requirement is common in public safety professions, and staff are paid extra for all overtime they work. However, relying too much on forced overtime is a significant problem; it is very hard on people and can exacerbate a staffing shortage. Right now, BOEC is working to address this problem by improving the training process, hiring more trainees, and increasing the overall budget.
  2. References to “trades” mean asking another employee to cover your shift in exchange for you covering theirs. BOEC dispatchers and calltakers frequently trade shifts with one another when someone wants a different day off.
  3. References to “last lunch” mean a provision in the labor contract that allows dispatchers and calltakers to take their lunch at the end of their shift, thus allowing them to end their work day one hour sooner.
  4. References to a certain number above or below “minimum” mean minimum staffing levels. BOEC uses historical data to predict 9-1-1 call volume for every day of the week and hour of the day. Based on that data, the bureau sets a minimum staffing level. Dispatchers and calltakers have a regular schedule that they sign up for every six months, and overtime (both voluntary and mandatory) is used to fill in holes in the schedule due to vacation time, sick time, and staffing shortages.

Do these tweets make you wonder if you might be a great public safety dispatcher? A career as a public safety telecommunicator is challenging and rewarding. If you’re interested, check out this site for information: BOEC just closed the application window for their spring recruitment but plans to hire two academies in the fall of 2016.