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Thank You To Our First, First Responders

For the second year in a row, Verizon communications have failed to include 911 Telecommunicators in its first responders Superbowl commercial.  This commercial is Verizon’s way of holding up First Responders and showing gratitude and respect for their service to our communities.  However, our 911 telecommunicators are the first, first responders.  The first responders we see in our communities can only serve us because they receive information from the call 911 telecommunicators take.

Who Takes Your 911 Call?

Valley Communications Center (VCC or Valley Com) serves the City of Auburn. “In 1976, the mayors of the cities of Auburn, Kent, Renton, and Tukwila entered into an Interlocal Agreement to consolidate their police and fire dispatching services into one organization.  Valley Com began dispatching on August 1, 1977,” states Valley Com’s website.

Valley Communications Center, Valley Com, VCC, Dispatcher, Dispatch, 911 Telecommunicator, APCO, 911, Old 911 com center
Vintage Valley Communications Center | Courtesy Photo, Valley Com

“Since 1976, [Valley Com] has been growing at a steady pace. [Valley Com] originally served the needs of the four owner cities and a small number of contract agencies. Today [Valley Com] serves ten police departments, 13 fire departments, and King County Medic One paramedics, with a service population of approximately 769,804 residents,” shared Valley Com Deputy Director Vonnie Mayer.

Mayer has been with Valley Com since November 1992.  During her career with the communications center, Mayer has served in every role in the com room.  In 2011 she was promoted to Operations Manager.  In 2016 she moved into her current position as Deputy Director.

Valley Com’s 911 Telecommunicators

Current number of 911 telecommunicators: 
11 Supervisors
44 Call Receivers (Communications Officer I)
59 Dispatchers (Communications Officer II)

Valley Communications Center, Valley Com, VCC, Dispatcher, Dispatch, 911 Telecommunicator, APCO, 911, 911 com center, 911 Call Taker, Auburn WA, City of Auburn
Valley Communications Center, Com Center | Courtesy Photo, Valley Com

Number of telecommunicators on during an average shift & shift length:
Minimum 13
Maximum 23
Minimum 1 Supervisor per shift
Com room staff work 10-hour shifts with overtime when needed. They do not work more than 12 consecutive hours without exigent circumstances.

According to Valley Com’s website, “A [Call Receiver] takes calls directly from the public and transfers pertinent information to the [Dispatcher] by entering it into our Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) system. A [Dispatcher] then communicates the information to first responders and coordinates the resulting public safety response with the involved police, fire or EMS field units. A [Call Receiver] works directly with 911 and other emergency calls from the public while [Dispatchers] work primarily with field units.”

Dispatch Radios
Valley Com’s dispatchers are assigned to a radio console each shift.  These consoles “can either be police, fire or the breaks position. The fire radios are broken into three radios. Fire 1- Tone and switch channel Fire 2- Emergency Medical Services (EMS), and Fire 3- Working Incident/Accidents,” said Mayer.

Police consoles are broken down by city, or agency.  Some consoles have combined cities or agency radios.  The combinations radios mean the Dispatcher must multitask dispatching to different agencies, in different cities.  The police consoles are Renton, Tukwila/Des Moines/Score Jail, Kent, Federal Way, and Auburn/Pacific/Algona/Black Diamond.

Valley Com’s Call Volume

To see the impact Valley Com has, here are their call numbers for one year:

Calls taken in 2018:

911 Calls 10 Digit Calls Outgoing Calls Combined Total
431,353 203,196 83,847 718,396

As we all know from the play Rent, there are 525,600 minutes in a year (you’re welcome for getting that stuck in your head).  That means that if each of these calls came in right after each other, Valley Com received more than one call a minute in 2018.  However, as with any call center, from your internet provider to a 911 communications center, call volumes will vary.

Calls taken just during the most recent windstorm and subsequent power outages:
The recent wind storm caused serious damage and left many in dangerous situations.  In just a single 12-hour period, Valley Com received nearly 1500 calls.

Date Time 911 10 Digit Total
01/06/19 Midnight to Noon 896 550 1446

Text-to-911
The public launch of Text-to-911 was December 20th.  According to Mayer, Valley Com has received 113 texts to date in January.  The total number of texts received in King County, in January, is 607.

What Does It Take To Become A 911 Telecommunicator?

To begin the hiring process to become a 911 telecommunicator with Valley Com, a candidate must be 18 years old at the academy start date. A high school or GED diploma is required.  Candidates must also be able to read and speak English and be legally able to work in the United States.  If a candidate meets these basic requirements, the three to five-month hiring process begins.

“[The hiring process] starts with passing a written test given by our partners at Public Safety Testing, with an 80% or higher score, then a two-hour skills test (Critical). Candidates who pass the written and skills test will be required to pass a polygraph, two-panel interviews, and psychological exam. [As well as] a four-hour observation (two hours with a call receiver and two hours with a dispatcher), a medical exam, and a background check,” explained Mayer.

Getting Hired Only Means Getting Into The Academy

Once hired, 911 Telecommunicators go through an intense training academy.  One-on-one training occurs after the academy.  “Training for the call receiver stage is 12 weeks in the academy, followed by one-on-one training. The duration of one-on-one training depends on how well the trainee performs, but generally is 10-13 weeks,” said Mayer.

“After at least one-year call receiving, dispatch training can begin” continued Mayer. “Academy for police dispatch is four weeks, with one-on-one training following. Dispatch one-on-one training tends to take longer than call receiver, generally 12-16 weeks but sometimes longer. The final step is fire/EMS dispatching. [The] academy is two weeks. We haven’t had any trainees on fire dispatch recently, but six to eight weeks of one-on-one has been typical.”

Valley Com, Call Receiver Graduation, 2018 Graduation, Valley Communications Center, Valley Com, VCC, Auburn Wa
The Second Call Receiver Academy of 2018 Graduates! | Courtesy Photo, Valley Com

Periodic tests are given throughout each academy.  A written final and practical test are given at the end of every academy.  “The final step in one-on-one training is 10-40 hours of observation by a trainer other than the one who provided their training,” said Mayer.

Starting salary for a Valley Com 911 Telecommunicator is $25.66 an hour.  Valley Com currently lists openings for a Communications Officer I – Call Receiver, and Communications Officer II – Dispatch, on their website.  For more information go to www.valleycom.org.

So, About That 911 Outage

At the end of December 2018, a CenturyLink outage caused a loss of service to 911 communication centers throughout the nation.  Though Valley Com did not lose service, it felt the effects of the blackout.   “Our com room team and technical team were outstanding. Valley Com was not affected by the outage but did see a spike in calls after the Emergency Alert was issued. Valley Com had an immediate presence on social media, notifying citizens of the potential outage,” shared Mayer.

“We, frequently, tested our phone lines,” Mayer continued. “The Operations Manager, the Executive Director and I participated (all night) in state and county wide conference calls. [These calls provided] updates of the outages and [we listened] to other 911 centers’ experiences. We monitored the outage closely and delivered an uninterrupted service to the public.”

Calls Taken on the Night of the CenturyLink Outage, Per Hour:

Dates 12/27/18       12/28/18                
Hours 2000 2100 2200 2300 0000 0100 0200 0300 0400 0500 0600 0700 0800
2016 84 125 86 83 49 42 50 31 38 53 66 85 103
2017 130 89 93 67 48 50 36 38 32 32 44 60 86
2018 132 111 157 371* 206* 94 69 47 35 44 76 96 97

Combating Secondary Trauma

Hope Animal Assisted Crisis Response, therapy dogs, valley com, vcc, valley communications center, compassion fatigue, secondary trauma, 911 dispatcher mental health
Hope Animal-Assisted Crisis Response therapy dogs | Photo Courtesy, Valley Com

Recently Valley Comm shared on their Facebook that they are bringing Hope Animal-Assisted Crisis Response therapy dogs into the communications center.  “911 personnel are the first of the first responders. As such, they can experience call related trauma. Valley Com is working with HOPE Animal-Assisted Crisis Response Teams with the goal of having them visit Valley Com regularly, during different days [and] shifts to offer support and build relationships. We will have them up for routine visits and after large scale traumatic events,” shared Mayer.

In addition to the partnership with the Hope Animal-Assisted Crisis Response therapy dogs, “Valley Com has an internal Peer Support and Mentor Program. We are also active on King County committees that focus on mental health and compassion fatigue,” said Mayer.

The first line of the Valley Com website’s ‘about us’ page reads, “Valley Com serves as the critical link between people who need help and the public safety responders who provide emergency services.”  It’s important to remember that though you see a firefighter, a police officer or a medic on the scene of an incident, the unseen 911 Telecommunicators play a vital role in emergency response. in this family, 911 telecommunicator, dispatch, 911 call receiver, thin gold line, first responder family

So, don’t be like Verizon – thank a 911 Telecommunicator today (but don’t call 911 to do it!)

 

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