The Voice on the Other End of the Line

Author: Kirsten Barber

First responders may be the first ones to arrive at the scene of emergencies, but they are not the first person someone talks to when they call for help. Telecommunicators are the ones who answer those calls for assistance and relay information to first responders. 

Skilled communicators trained to remain calm in any situation, telecommunicators are essential members of North Carolina’s life-saving teams. Governor Roy Cooper declared April 12 - 20 National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week, acknowledging the professionalism, compassion and dedication of these members of the public safety community.

NC Department of Public Safety has several teams of telecommunicators across the state working with NC Emergency Management, the State Highway Patrol, State Capitol Police and even the National Guard.

Emergency Management’s telecommunicators staff the 24-hour emergency operations center taking calls for hazardous materials incidents, severe weather, search and rescue requests, chemical spills and more. They are busiest during severe weather events such as tornados, floods, hurricanes and winter storms, but have also recently been receiving calls due to the new coronavirus (also knowns as COVID-19).

These telecommunicators also have the unique responsibility to help county emergency management agencies get resources they need. Commodities can be requested from a county agency for a variety of needs, and Emergency Management telecommunicators must always be ready to respond quickly.

The State Capitol Police operates its own emergency telecommunications center. State Capitol Police’s telecommunicators dispatch officers to answer calls for service from state employees working in Wake County who may be in physical distress of a victim of theft. They also take calls   for any matters concerning people or property at state government complexes. They monitor a comprehensive fire, rescue, panic and burglar alarm system for state-owned facilities across North Carolina and dispatch the appropriate emergency services to these locations.

State Highway Patrol telecommunicators dispatch troopers to motor vehicle incidents and will assist a trooper with calling for additional emergency services if they are needed. Roadway debris and wildlife are other calls that are all part of a SHP telecommunicator’s day.

“The service demonstrated each day by our telecommunicators offers a true reflection of excellence among public safety professionals,” said Colonel Glenn McNeill, Jr. of the NC State Highway Patrol in a Facebook post. “This could not be more apparent than now, as our entire country continues to merge through unforeseen times.”

The North Carolina National Guard Joint Operations Center also fields calls from the people of North Carolina. This connection with the public is a great opportunity for transparency and partnership between guard members and the communities they serve. Calls received can range from event requests, community engagement, inquiries about training in NC and a variety of other topics. The calls differ day-to-day.

During a crisis like COVID-19, it is important to remember that many law enforcement call centers have non-emergency lines. This allows the main lines to remain available for callers in need of immediate emergency assistance. 

Trained to be a calming presence in stressful situations, telecommunicators are critical members of our public safety teams. While we pause this week to recognize their dedication and professionalism, we are grateful for and dependent on their steadfast service all year long.

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