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In the News

Seiley: “The dispatcher is the very first, first responder”

Monday, May 11, 2015

Before 9-1-1 became a number Burnet County residents could dial to reach an emergency telecommunicator, Vickie Seiley manned two emergency phone lines and five administration lines, all of which could ring at once when residents called county dispatch seeking help.

At the age of 22 in 1984, she was one of four people who worked at the Burnet County dispatch center and the only person to work during her shift. There weren’t any computers to aid her in directing or answering calls from all over the county. She connected residents to area police, fire and emergency medical services including municipal departments such as Marble Falls, Burnet and Granite Shoals.

“It could get pretty hairy in there because there was only one person working at a time,” Seiley said. The population was smaller and so was the workload, but the job was still critical. Seiley “loved it.”

Seiley, who is now the Burnet County Sheriff’s Office communications supervisor, didn’t mind the hustle and bustle of busy hours back then. She worked the job for the same reasons emergency telecommunicators do the job today – to serve the community, help their neighbors during times of crisis, and aid emergency crews.

“I lived and breathed it,” Seiley said. “It was awesome. Whenever you make a difference in someone’s life, it makes you feel good.”

National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week was April 12-18. The week honored the endless commitment emergency call-takers make for serving their communities and ensuring those facing crisis are connected to services they need.

The Capital Area Emergency Communication District, which serves CAPCOG’s 10-county region and  31 public safety answering points (PSAPs), has more than 600 telecommunicators that answered more than 1.5 million emergency calls during the 2014 fiscal year, about 130,000 a month. The Burnet County Sheriff’s Office PSAP has 12 people handling about 1,100 monthly 9-1-1 calls.

> Read more about CAPCOG's Emergency Communications Division.

“I don’t think people realize the dispatcher is the very first, first responder,” Seiley said.  “They are not at the scene, but they try to do what they can before help arrives.”

The job has changed a lot since Seiley worked the switch board.  There is so much more information at the fingertips of emergency telecommunicators, Seiley said. That doesn’t mean the job is any easier. Larger populations, bigger cities, more information, and modern equipment all adds to a call-takers job.

GIS mapping is a common tool to help telecommunicators and emergency crews locate people making calls now, but that wasn’t always the case.
Seiley used to be a roadmap for officers. Seiley would describe roads, turns, and landmarks to officers who needed help navigating county and city streets to arrive at emergencies.

Officers didn’t carry maps in their squad cars, and there would be large areas where radios would go dead, Seiley said.  Sometimes the only way for officers to find a location would be to stop at a local store and call dispatch. Occasionally, officers called from payphones.

When 9-1-1 first came to Burnet County, a large box was placed inside the dispatch center. Red letters and numbers scrolled across a digital display, Seiley said. It either displayed a phone number or an address. A large tape reel, probably the size of a movie reel, used to record every conversation that came into the dispatch center. Whoever worked at night was responsible for changing it.

Thanks to computers and GPS, such critical information is almost always guaranteed.

In the district now, more than 95 percent of 9-1-1 calls are answered within 10 seconds; almost 98 percent are answered within 20 seconds. The national recommended goals for answering calls are 90 percent at less than 10 seconds and 95 percent at less than 20 seconds.

Each second an emergency telecommunicator is on the phone, they are providing residents with public safety.

“(Telecommunicators) are trying to keep all the guys out there safe and make sure everyone gets the help they need,” Seiley said.

Find training opportunities for emergency telecommunicators.

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