State Declares April 9-13 Dispatcher Appreciation Week
By Kellie Bucy
“Blanco County 911, what is your emergency?” Words many of us hear at some point during our most dire situations. The voice behind the words is a nameless and faceless dispatcher acting as the lifeline for caller and for emergency responder as they navigate an unexpected situation.
Surrounded by eight screens that manage active calls for the eight county emergency agencies, locate callers and control jail security, dispatchers are the ultimate multi-taskers during their shifts where the one to two on duty manage countywide police, fire and EMS, multiple phone lines and up to four radio channels.
“We are the hub of all operations,” says Julie Bussey, Lieutenant over Blanco County Jail and Communications during my visit to the Blanco County Dispatch Center.
All emergency services go through Blanco County Dispatch: Blanco County Sheriff’s Department, Blanco County EMS and North Blanco County EMS, Johnson City Police and Fire departments, and Blanco Police and Fire departments. State agencies such as Texas State Park Police and Texas State Troopers in the area also sometimes use Blanco County Dispatch.
Blanco County Dispatchers are also licensed as jailers as they assist the jailers and aid in jail security.
They take calls, broadcast to first responders over the radio to coordinate the initial response as well as additional resources and act as a lifeline for the emergency responders as they need backup and information.
As Dispatcher and Blanco Firefighter Lt. Chris Leach and Dispatch Sgt. Maegan Johnson walk me through a dispatcher’s duties we are interrupted several times so they can manage radio traffic between on-duty police while they’re on patrol and to answer the non-emergency number for the Sheriff’s Office.
They answer questions, transfer calls and give instruction to those who have general inquiries, family members in Blanco County Jail or need to talk to Sheriff’s Office administration and leadership.
A Spanish speaker calls. To bridge language gaps, Leach assures me they have operators available 24/7 to translate emergency calls.
A new ring tone chimes and Leach holds the non-emergent line to answer a 911 call. A call for EMS for a potential stroke victim.
The caller’s location is automatically found by their computer system. Leach reports locating landlines is instant as the phone number appears with their location. Cell phone calls take a matter of seconds to triangulate between towers. If it can’t be located, they then contact the cell phone company which can also locate cell phones.
Text to 911 is also available this year. With this service, the texter must include their location as texts cannot be automatically located.
While Leach dispatches EMS with a tone over the radio, he switches radio channels to one dedicated to EMS communication. Johnson gets on the phone to put AirEvac on standby.
Simultaneously she logs a Blanco Officer’s activity on patrol.
Meanwhile Leach also confirms vehicle information with a deputy before the deputy detains the subject.
The two dispatchers log and track the information from the subject’s vehicle to all the officers’ locations and activity.
EMS updates dispatch and calls off the need for AirEvac. All the calls seem to quiet at the same moment.
“It’s a team effort,” says Johnson. “Everyone’s been here long enough to know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and work with that.”
They explain what it takes to be a dispatcher; a person who’s sympathetic, empathetic but also clear and assertive no matter what they hear on the line.
This week, April 9 through 13, is Dispatcher Appreciation Week. Blanco County Dispatchers take approximately 18 thousand calls a year, an amount that is growing as rapidly as Blanco County.
In an emergency, don’t hesitate to call 911. To get a hold of the Sheriff’s Office or other county emergency responder agencies including municipal agencies call the non-emergency number 830-868-7104.
From the Johnson City Record Courier and the Blanco County News: Thank you to our Blanco County Dispatchers.