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911 dispatchers get recognition

ALBANY, Ga. — They’re often the first line of defense — those unflappable voices you hope you’ll never need to hear.

This week has been National Public Safety Telecommunications Week, a time to celebrate those unsung heroes on the far end of that 911 call.

“I truly believe they are the unsung heroes of almost all emergencies these days,” said Jim Vaught, deputy director of the Albany-Dougherty Emergency Management Agency. “You dial 911 and you hear a voice, the dispatcher, who may literally save your life.”

Housed at the Courthouse on Pine Avenue, some eight to 10 dispatchers, or communications officers, are braced and ready for the next emergency any time of the day or night.

Officers must be composed enough to balance the information appearing on their computer screens, including a digital map, pinpointing the location of each distressed caller.

While he or she may show empathy or concern, the officer must always ask the proper questions so that he or she may direct police officers, firefighters or EMS to the scene of the emergency.

When no address is stated, the communications officer knows where the call is coming from — even when a cell phone is used. If the call is lost, the officer can call right back.

“When I came here we were in the basement of the courthouse,” said Charlotte Floyd, Albany 911 communications manager. “We had two operators. You could dial 911, but we didn’t get their telephone numbers or addresses.”

According to Floyd, while many prospective communications officers are called, few are chosen and even fewer remain more than a few years. Reasons could include the 12-hour shifts and awesome responsibilities, she said.

“They’re on the phone with you, helping you with your emergency and when they finish and hang up there’s another phone ringing with another emergency,” Floyd said. “That’s the reason we celebrate what they do for us 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. They’re our first line of defense in an emergency.”

Floyd said that prospective communications officers must do well in interviews and pass a special written examination before working at the call center. After acceptance, new officers go quickly “on the floor” under strict supervision. Later, dispatchers are sent for certification training in Forsyth for a week, where they receive additional classroom instruction and simulator testing.

When the communications officers return, they’ll be dispatching for the Albany Police Department, Emergency Medical Services, the Albany Fire Department and the Dougherty County Police Department, Floyd said, and interacting with other public safety agencies as well.

In June or July Albany 911, a part of Albany-Dougherty Emergency Management, will relocate briefly, Floyd said, so that equipment that will accept text messages can be installed.