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Thursday, July 31, 2014
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Published: Tuesday, 10/2/2001

The trouble with 911

No one said being a 911 operator was easy. People yell at you and call you names. In times of true peril, the caller may be staring death in the eye. Phone operators live with levels of stress and pandemonium most people would find unbearable.

Some who remember the days when there was no 911 emergency number to call are less exercised about having to wait 20 seconds for a reply than are citizens who have known nothing else and rightly expect a swift response.

Personal security has become an urgent issue to Americans in recent weeks. And we've all been indoctrinated by emergency services personnel and their bosses, when they seek public financial support, about how a fast response can make a life-or-death difference.

So, no doubt about it, emergency response is a job that needs doing, despite failed efforts to hire and keep qualified civilian staff, some of whom are unwilling to endure the stress for $25,914.72 a year to start and $34,952.96 after three years.

Hiring civilians, at lower pay, to do a job once performed by uniformed officers had raised hackles in some of the uniformed ranks, even as it won support for its promise of fiscal prudence.

There is no evidence, especially in light of Officer James Ogle's alleged delays in dispatching emergency crews, that uniformed staff make a difference when it comes to efficiency. Now one has to wonder whether the reduced salaries were wise.

A lot of money has gone into upgrading technology in our emergency response system in Lucas County. The focus must now be on people.

What is clear is that adequate staffing at both the receiving end and the dispatching end of an emergency system is paramount. No system will be perfect. If a major emergency occurs, both the receiving and the dispatching ends will be burdened and have to set priorities. Someone will get the short end of the stick, but it shouldn't happen on any regular basis. There ought to be enough police patrolling the city to answer an average number of emergency calls.

That said, when staff turnover threatens the emergency system, there is clearly something awry with the screening, hiring, and rewarding of civilian 911 operators. Allowed to endure, this kind of inadequacy could lead citizens to think more of protecting themselves rather than of relying on community agencies - a proposition scary to contemplate.

It may be that a job that so quickly burns people out should have shorter shifts, or higher pay, or more extensive benefits, or better training to withstand aggravation under pressure, intense stress, and being civil while being called nasty names. Or all of the above.

Whatever solution officials decide upon, we should not be in the position in six months that we find ourselves in today, where the emergency system tells a feuding couple, whose argument is quickly escalating toward violence, in effect: “Settle it yourselves. We can't take your call.”



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