In recognition of National Public Safety Tele-communicators week, the RCC team opened up their operations to share with the community everything they do on a daily basis, much of which isn’t entirely obvious.
The Rolla Central Communications (RCC)Team works in the basement of the Rolla Police Station, serving as the brains for all of Phelps County first responders, monitoring several screens at once while answering calls and getting responders where they need to be. In recognition of National Public Safety Tele-communicators week, the RCC team opened up their operations to share with the community everything they do on a daily basis, much of which isn’t entirely obvious.
Stacey Smith has been the communications chief of the Rolla Police Department since March 1, and has 14 full time employees workmen with her, along with one part time employee. Together they take emergency calls for all across Phelps County and make sure help is there when it’s needed. According to Stacey, larger areas and cities will have separate call-takers and dispatchers, but here in Phelps County, each employee is cross-trained to handle every portion of the job.
“We handle all of the emergency services for Phelps County with the exception of Highway Patrol,” Stacey said. “We dispatch for seven law enforcement agencies, six fire departments and two ambulance companies.”
The team also handles campus police for Missouri S&T. Their daily calls reach well past two hundred, with the team working hard out of sight.
“Our dispatchers work behind the scenes. The public has this team that’s coordinating all of these emergency services for the county, and they do a really good job of that,” said Stacey.
There is a team of dispatchers working 24 hours in the basement communications room, cycling in and out on eight hour shifts. However these individuals will often come in more for heavy emergency situations. And according to Stacey, more than one will spend the night in the office during harsh weather to make sure they are available when needed.
Each dispatcher continuously monitors six different screens, keeping an eye on the various incoming calls and radio channels. While one screen shows a detailed map of the community to provide directions, another will track the activity of emergency responders.
One of the additional things we do is find resources,” said Stacey. “That might involve getting a helicopter, getting utilities to cut power, it may be getting a bulldozer or someone from family services to take care of children on the scene.
The work the RCC employees do each day isn’t for the faint of heart, according to her. She said the job takes a special kind of person to handle the kind of stress they deal with on a day to day basis and still maintain a good attitude.
“Dispatchers deal with a lot of what we call secondary stress or secondary trauma, because of what we’re hearing,” said Stacey. “If we have a domestic situation or burglary in progress, they [a dispatcher] might be on the phone with that person for fifteen or twenty minutes before help gets there. And so whatever they’re going through you’re kind of going through with them.”
Stacey said the team carries a lot on their shoulders, and “take of lot of responsibility for the men and women [they] dispatch for.
“When we send them into harms way, or call them and they don’t answer…it’s a lot of anxiety,” said Stacey.
Dispatchers undergo four months of training, sometimes more, before they are fully qualified. According the Stacey, the team is also regularly sent to update and continue their training outside of the department. Dispatchers are trained for a large variety of situations, from active shooter courses, to medical dispatch training that allows them to walk callers through first aid and CPR over the phone.
“The superhero in me misses it,” said Stacey, who now operates largely in an administrator position as Communications Chief. “And that’s what they [her employees] are, they’re superheroes. They take your worst day and try to make it better.”