VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — Despite the coronavirus outbreak, 911 dispatchers are still there to pick up the phones.
They are the first line of defense to keep first responders safe and healthy. It’s a job that isn’t possible to work from home.
Employees inside the dispatch center are spaced out and are following the social distancing guidelines.
They are also wearing masks for their entire 12-hour-shifts.
“We need our employees to be healthy, to come to work every day and they are up to the task,” said Stephen Williams, Virginia Beach’s Emergency Communications and Citizen Services Director.
Williams said being a dispatcher is a job that is tough and stressful. He said during the pandemic, dispatchers have lost outlets to relieve stress.
“They have lost the outlets of going out to the beach, going to the movies or going to dinner. They have lost a lot of those outlets to destress,” he explained.
Williams said during this pandemic the center has experienced a 7-8% decrease in calls during the month of March.
He expects the call volume to decrease another 15-20% for the month of April. While the calls to 911 are down, Williams said dispatchers are seeing more medical calls.
Calls for car crashes have decreased.
“I think back to a year ago, if I felt like I had the flu I would feel pretty certain it was the flu and be ok with that," Williams said. "Now when people are getting sick, they are scared because of what is out there.”
During the outbreak, dispatchers are asking the same questions to every person who calls for help. Some questions they are asking is if the patient has a cough, fever or shortness of breath.
They are also asking if the patient or a person in the home tested for COVID-19 but they haven’t yet received test results.
“We are doing by answering those questions is ensure that the police officers, the paramedics, our fire personnel that are coming out to help you that they put on the proper protection equipment," Williams explained.
Williams said it doesn’t mean you’re going to receive a different level of care. It's an effort to protect everyone and to flatten the curve of COVID-19.
He explained, “We just want people when they call 911 to be honest with us. We are not going to treat you any differently. It just helps us down the line.”
Next week is National Telecommunicators Week. Thank you to them for their hard work and dedication.