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Commissioner Steve Novick

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Twitter Takeover: BOEC Senior Dispatcher

In April, we celebrated National Telecommunicators Week: an annual recognition of our first first responders, the dedicated calltakers and dispatchers who answer 9-1-1 calls and send fire, police and medical help.

National Telecommunicators Week is over for the year, but our calltakers and dispatchers at Portland’s Bureau of Emergency Communications (BOEC) are still on the front lines of emergencies in Portland. And, as discussed throughout this year’s annual budget process, BOEC is looking to hire more dispatchers and is currently recruiting for the next class of trainees to enter the BOEC training academy this fall.

To continue to highlight BOEC’s important work, a calltaker or dispatcher will occasionally take over my Twitter account this year to provide a glimpse into a typical workday for our city’s first first responders.

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

  

Sandi Goss, Senior Dispatcher (left)

About Me:

I’ve been a 911 Calltaker, and now Senior Dispatcher, for more than 23 years. I love coming into work every day knowing it’ll be different than the day before. I’m certified in all BOEC disciplines – calltaking, police dispatch and fire dispatch. Calltakers work 10 hours a day, 4 days a week, and after my many years of service, I was finally given the dayshift (from 0700-1700)!

We are able to combine our lunch and breaks together and take them all at once. I typically take the first lunch/breaks from 0700-0800 so I can get my girls off to school. My day starts off hectic and I hit the ground running.

Calltakers rotate every 2 hours so we’re not sedentary. My day usually begins with calltaking on the front lines and backing up tactical fire dispatch, then a few hours with East and then Downtown Portland police dispatch and back to calltaking on the front lines to end my day.

[8:06 AM]  The first call of the day was a four-year-old child who wanted to know if I live in jail. I couldn’t get the child to put an adult on the phone, because he said his dad was asleep, so I set up a police welfare check. Officers (after dispatched) were able to speak with the dad. All ended well and the kid was a sweetie—I’m glad everything was okay! 

[8:11 AM]  Maintenance employee arrived at work to find individual squatting in an unoccupied apartment. Police arrived and arrested subject without incident.

[8:26 AM]  TriMet dispatcher called, requesting police assistance. There was a Trimet Inspector at Rose Quarter transit station with a suspicious subject who didn’t have an ID, requesting police backup to identify the subject. TriMet police were dispatched, but the inspector ended up cancelling the request.

Some emergency calls get referred to our telephone report unit to prevent tying up patrol officers with “low-priority” calls. For the rest of my phone shift, I took various non-emergency calls.

[8:51 AM] Non-emergency call: Chronic juvenile runaway never came home last night. Parents concerned.

[9:20 AM] Non-emergency call: Alarm-monitoring company called in an alarm activation for a business they monitor.

[9:24 AM] Non-emergency fraud call: Victim of identity theft, reporting incident.

[10:05 AM] Non-emergency theft call:  License plate stolen off of caller’s vehicle.

[10:30 AM] Non-emergency: Gentleman called to report a reckless driver that occurred 90 minutes prior—due to the time frame, there’s not much we can do since the driver could be anywhere.

My time covering East Dispatch from 11 AM to 1:30 PM started off slow but quickly escalated when we had to go into the dreaded “manual mode.” Our computers were taken down for a maintenance upgrade so, for two hours, dispatchers and calltakers were taken back 20 years in BOEC technology. As a dispatcher, I had to keep track of the location of each officer in the field. As calls came in, calltakers had to write down the details of each call onto a card and then hand them to me so I could dispatch a response. In follow up, we have to write down the officers’ dispatch, arrival time and “clear” times.

It was totally stressful and busy today—so much so that I had to have a co-worker help me keep track of the active and holding calls!

Central Dispatch:

[1:00 PM- 3:00 PM] This is basically all of downtown and deep SW/NW Portland. It was totally uneventful today. I took one priority call about two men fighting—one bit the other one and a fight ensued. We get chronic calls from these two. 

[3:16 PM] This was the oddest call of the day. A male was walking in the rain soaking wet with his hands tied behind his back with a cord. Police were dispatched and made contact with the subject. Police requested medical to check him out. Police ended up taking subject back home to family after medical clearance.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to find out the full story after the police got the subject to safety. It can sometimes be tough not getting closure for calls.

[3:30 PM] I took a few calls for vehicles blocking the callers’ driveways. I referred to parking patrol for assistance after making sure the vehicles were not stolen.

[4:00 PM] END OF SHIFT! It was a long day, but going home to spend time with my family and relax! Even though tomorrow is Thursday, it’s my Friday, so I’m looking forward to taking my lunch/breaks at the end of my shift and getting to leave by 3:00 PM.

____________________________________________________________

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.
  5. References to “low priority” calls refer to emergency or non-emergency calls that don’t require an immediate response.  All of the calls BOEC receives are prioritized according to a tested protocol that sorts them to ensure Police, Fire and Ambulance responders are deploying resources effectively to respond to the most time sensitive calls first.
  6. References to “manual mode” refer to times when the City’s technology experts have to temporarily take the automatic Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) program offline, and dispatchers must fill in the gaps on functions that are typically automated. The Bureau of Technology Services uses manual mode to update and repair the CAD, and dispatchers are trained to work in manual mode during technology updates and in case of emergencies.

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 plans to hire new dispatchers this month for training in fall 2016.