If you aren't a dispatcher, or you aren't aware of the inner workings, there's a generally followed guideline from NENA where 90% of the incoming 911 calls should be answered within 10 seconds, and 95% should be answered within 20 seconds. These stats are very important to the center, and most PSAP dispatchers can tell you exactly what their stats are, or at least what they average.
Our average is pretty decent considering how short staffed we are. Most of us at the center work very very hard to keep the stats up despite our low staffing because of how important it is. Radio dispatchers are doing double and sometimes triple duty as a calltaker and your own backup, and sometimes at the expense of the field. But we are all getting very worse for wear and I'm not sure how much longer we can continue at the rate... nor do I want to.
Our direct management is failing to recognize that we are having a staffing crisis. We have had 15+ trainees start in the last three years - only one has made it though, and she's still on probation for another couple days. They aren't doing anything to up recruitment, headhunt from other departments, or re-vamp the training program. The message that they are sending to their bosses is "Look at these stats! They're fine! We're fine! Everything is fine!" I don't know in what world being below 40% staffing is anywhere close to acceptable, but they are burying their collective heads in the sand.
So all of us on the floor have all come to the same conclusion. The only way to send the message up and over the managers' heads to higher up the chain is to sink the stats. Or not even to sink them - but to answer calls without rushing the caller, making crappy logs, and all the other shortcuts that we have adapted to in the last few years. Stats are the only measuring stick they seem to care about (not even that OT bill...), so this should send the message, loud and clear.
But here's the problem with that. Every call that is holding could be a mom who just found her son hanging in the bathroom. Or a woman going into labor. Or a domestic that is turning from terrible to deadly. It could be a parking complaint, true, but looking at that count of holding calls doesn't tell us what is is that is holding. That's why we can't help but rush that call to get to the next, and the next, and the next, for 10/12/14 hours straight every day. Our humanity gets us in the end. Most of us started this job wanting to help people, at least I know I did. Sitting there just looking at the calls holding without doing anything should feel wrong. These are emergencies, some life or death, and the person that the public wants and needs on the other end of the line isn't the person that knows all of this and watches the timer tick up on each call.
So, we dispatchers will keep churning and burning through that call queue, and here's what we ask:
Of the field: Please be patient with us. It sucks having to put you on standby, or to have to do five other things before completing your request. We hate it probably more than you do. Every shift we have to make Sophie's Choice multiple times, and we usually beat ourselves up for it afterwards, more than you know.
Of the public: Please be patient with us. If we tell you that you'll have to call the non-emergency line, or we put you on hold, please know that it's for a reason. If we seem distracted during your phone call because we take radio traffic in the middle of obtaining your info, please don't take offense.
Of our family/loved ones: Please be patient with us. When we don't answer your text while we are on duty or even for hours, we're probably buried in calls. And when we get home, we may not want to talk about our day, or even talk about anything for a bit.
And to all the other dispatchers in the same boat, keep on going. Embrace your humanity, and keep taking those calls, one at a time until that queue is at zero. You've got this.