Author: Amelia MuellerAmelia Mueller is the North Central Texas Emergency Communication District's communications coordinator. Her responsibilities include managing and its social media platforms, creating educational content, managing the public education program, and more.

9-1-1 Telecommunicators Save Lives – Why Aren’t They First Responders?

9-1-1 Telecommunicators Save Lives – Why Aren’t They First Responders?

 Last month, the 9-1-1 Supporting Accurate Views of Emergency Services (9-1-1 SAVES) Act was introduced into the United States House of Representatives. Last week, a companion bill was introduced into the Senate and a similar bill has been filed in the state legislature (HB 1090). The 9-1-1 SAVES Act will reclassify 9-1-1 telecommunicators, who are currently classified as clerical workers, as a protective service occupation. This would allow them to be recognized as first responders in the public safety community.

Telecommunicators already identify as the first, first responders. They answer the call in the worst moment of someone’s life and offer support while simultaneously coordinating a response. They face fatigue, burn out, PTSD, and other unique mental health challenges. But the Bureau of Labor Statistics classifies them as an Office and Administrative Support Occupation. How many clerical positions see 31% of their employees with PTSD? How many administrators report feelings of fear, helplessness, or horror in 32% of the phone calls they take?

The telecommunicators of the North Central Texas Emergency Communications District are more than clerical workers. They are the ones who pick up the call in your darkest moment, and the ones who stay on the line to promise you hope. They are the first, first responders, but this time they need your help.

Support your local 9-1-1 telecommunicators by contacting your local legislator. The National Emergency Number Association made it easy: just click the button below, fill out the form, and they’ll tell you who your representatives are and contact them for you.

Your 9-1-1 telecommunicators will always be there to pick up the call. This time, you can help them. Contact your legislator.

Support Your Local 9-1-1 Telecommunicators Now!

4 Ways You Can Reach 9-1-1 in the Digital Age – and Why They’re Not All a Good Thing

4 Ways You Can Reach 9-1-1 in the Digital Age – and Why They’re Not All a Good Thing

It’s a brave new digital world. Boundary-pushing technologies pop up every day, and a lot of this new tech solves our problems faster and makes our lives easier. However, there are some industries, like public safety, who are concerned about new technology that the public isn’t fully educated in.

The best way to reach 9-1-1 is by calling. We don’t see a way around it for some time, but that doesn’t mean tech companies aren’t trying to change that. Some of the solutions that have popped up in recent years can help a caller get to 9-1-1 in specific circumstances, and others are causing more harm than good.

Emergency Apps

Emergency apps were created to provide advanced capabilities that are not yet available or are currently in development for Next Generation 9-1-1. Many of these apps claim that they can replace a voice call to 9-1-1, but that’s not always true.

Many 9-1-1 call centers don’t support emergency apps, and because there is no national standard, an app that is used in one jurisdiction may not be used in another. It’s difficult to create a one-size-fits-all solution when there are no standards to enforce, or when these apps are created by developers that lack public safety knowledge and resources.

Be wary of the claims that these apps make. There is no 9-1-1 app certification process developed by public safety organizations or government agencies, so if an app is “certified,” it’s unlikely that it was seen by industry professionals with authority over 9-1-1. Apps that claim to send information directly to first responders are probably referencing first responders who also downloaded the app and are monitoring it regularly—and many of them will have to pay a fee to do this. The odds that the first responders in your community are using it are slim.

The Association of Public Safety Communications Officials (APCO) and other national organizations are making efforts to create standardizations for apps, but for now the best way to get help from emergency services is a voice call to 9-1-1. If you are unable to call, and if it is available in your area, you can also text.

Smart Watches

Smart watches are growing in popularity and are slowly replacing smartphones in a lot of people’s lives. That means they’ll be used more and more frequently to make emergency calls, but it’s important to know the limitations of these devices. Not all smartwatches are created equal—some can make outgoing calls while others can only display information from your phone. If your smartwatch can make outgoing calls without a Bluetooth connection, then it can also call 9-1-1.

There’s been a huge increase in false 9-1-1 calls from smartwatches, which takes call takers away from emergencies. Make sure you know how your smartwatch works so you can avoid contributing to this problem.

Voice Command

Have you ever asked Alexa to call you an Uber? What about calling 9-1-1? As of today, the Alexa technology can’t call 9-1-1. The Amazon Echo speaker isn’t set up to make emergency calls because it can’t receive incoming calls. This is also true for similar technologies like the Google Assistant, though there are workarounds to all of these limitations that people discovered online. We advise you, however, to be wary. This is new technology, and glitches are bound to happen. You don’t want your life or the lives of your loved ones to depend on your ability to set up a workaround “skill.”

Siri, on the other hand, does have the capability to call 9-1-1 with just a command, but only if you’re within earshot. And it won’t turn your phone on speaker for you, so the call taker may not hear your responses if you’re far away.


The ride-sharing app recently launched a 9-1-1 calling feature that allows users to tap an icon in the bottom right corner to reach 9-1-1. This sends the caller directly to a 9-1-1 dispatcher, and won’t alert the driver (or vice versa) that the call has been made. The feature was tested in a handful of US cities and the plan is to release it nationwide.

Uber has acknowledged that this feature should only be used if it’s the fastest way to reach emergency services. If the app is already open, and a user feels threatened or in danger, it’s a useful tool, but you can still call 9-1-1 directly.

We don’t see new technologies replacing a voice call to 9-1-1 anytime soon. Though we can’t predict the future and whether or not that changes, we can advise you to follow three simple tips when you call 9-1-1 if you want to get help quickly:

1) Know your location

2) Answer all questions

3) Stay on the line

As of today, voice calling 9-1-1 is efficient and the best way to get help in an emergency. And if you see any new technology claiming to replace this, just remember to be skeptical and to do your research.

How Does Your PSAP Handle Mental Health?

How Does Your PSAP Handle Mental Health?

In a 2012 study by Northern Illinois University, 800 9-1-1 telecommunicators reported feelings of fear, helplessness, or horror during 32 percent of their 9-1-1 calls. These professionals face an enormous amount of stress and fatigue during long shifts, which can lead to burnout or PTSD. Though telecommunicators are not classified as first responders, this industry knows that they face similar mental health concerns as police, fire, and EMS personnel, and some 9-1-1 professionals are affected by specific types of trauma unique to their field.

It is up to call center leadership to help their telecommunicators handle the mental health concerns that come with the job. Mental health is no longer a taboo subject in our society, and PSAPs that aren’t talking about it are doing a disservice to their team. We’ve outlined a couple of ways supervisors and managers can start the conversation and help their telecommunicators be aware of their mental state so that they can continue to save lives every day.

Talk About It

Most industries have developed strategies to avoid burnout, depression, anxiety, and other mental issues that may affect their employees. The 9-1-1 industry can learn from these practices to create strategies that are personalized for their PSAP.

Agencies all over the country are addressing PTSD and other health concerns in peer-to-peer groups like this one in St. Joseph. These dispatchers created a safe way—handing off a poker chip—for coworkers to reach out when they’re in need of support. This allows individuals who may not feel comfortable starting the conversation get help from their peers. Consider creating a similar program at your PSAP, or invest in a mental health wellness check solution.

The most important thing PSAP leaders can do is allow conversations to happen without stigma. A 2017 survey of 2,000 first responders by the University of Phoenix found that 55% felt that their supervisor would treat them differently if they brought up mental health concerns at work. Though telecommunicators were not included in this sample, they face similar trauma to those surveyed.

Know the Signs    

Dr. Michelle Lilly published the 2012 study regarding trauma in telecommunicators and stated in an interview by the Journal of Emergency Dispatch that PTSD looks the same in telecommunicators as it does in any other profession. Telecommunicators deal with the same symptoms of trauma as individuals who have been assaulted, in disasters, or in vehicle accidents, and Lilly says the rate of PTSD in telecommunicators is between 18-25%. It’s important for supervisors and managers to look for symptoms like:

  • Unprovoked emotional outbursts
  • Emotional detachment
  • Sleep issues
  • Flashbacks
  • Feeling uneasy
  • Hypervigilance

Telecommunicators may also suffer from vicarious trauma, or compassion fatigue. This unique phenomenon is often found in counselors or therapists who experience secondary trauma after listening to individuals who have experienced trauma. Due to their line of work, telecommunicators can also suffer from compassion fatigue, which can lead to symptoms like difficulty falling asleep, dreaming about their callers’ experiences, feeling trapped by their work, intrusive thoughts, and more.

Knowing the signs of mental illness means a supervisor can better help team members dealing with the symptoms. Though hypervigilance is the most common PTSD symptom for telecommunicators, it’s important to know them all so that no one slips through the cracks.

Look for Burnout

We’ve all heard of PTSD, depression, anxiety, and other common mental illnesses, but many individuals may be affected by something more common: burnout.

Burnout is a specific type of work-related stress that leads to physical and emotional exhaustion along with the feelings of a lack of accomplishment and underappreciation. It’s common in many fields. Common burnout symptoms include:

  • Becoming critical or cynical at work
  • Irritability with coworkers
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Lack of satisfaction over achievements
  • A change in sleep habits

PSAP leadership should look for burnout and offer support for individuals who may be dealing with these symptoms. Veterans are more likely to have low job satisfaction and a higher rate of trauma, which is an uneven exchange that can lead to a high turnover in a center.

Stay Positive

Lilly’s research found that many telecommunicators, both new hires and veterans, still believe in the “benevolence of the world.” This proves the importance of positivity in the 9-1-1 profession. Without a focus on the positive, and a support system to handle trauma and fatigue, telecommunicators couldn’t do this important job. Continue to encourage positivity in your center not only because it fosters a better work culture, but because without it your team wouldn’t be able to do the important, live-saving work they do every day.

3 Social Media Tips for Public Safety Communicators

3 Social Media Tips for Public Safety Communicators

Social media is nothing new in the public safety industry, but lots of organizations still struggle to find a winning strategy that educates their public about their local police, fire, and emergency services. Social media is a complex communications method, but it can be hugely successful in educating your public if used correctly.

We broke down three easy ways your organization can use social media to educate your community.

  • Know your goals and how to measure them

Posting to social without a strategy or agenda is not going to educate your public. Before you sit down to create a social media post, ask what your goals are. You know you want to bring awareness toward public safety, but what key takeaway do you want the public to learn, and how are you going to decide if you’ve achieved that goal?

Maybe you’re trying to spread the news about a string of recent break ins in your community. The goal here is awareness, so your measurement tool would be number of shares or retweets and, of course, your overall reach. However, if you were advertising a public education event and post a link to a webpage for more information, you’d be more interested in the number of clicks.

  • Use the right messaging for the right platform

Not all social media platforms are the same, and your messaging will differ across channels. You can push the same topic on multiple channels, but how you talk about it should be unique for each platform.


Facebook has turned into a generic platform where anything from entertainment to education to personal updates live. It’s a safe bet that whatever topic you’re pushing can live on Facebook and reach your desired audience, but that means the language you use needs to relate to various publics. Skip the public safety jargon and focus on conversational phrases, even for more serious content like crime reports or press releases. You’ll see more engagement, and those goals we talked about before will be easier to meet.


Twitter, on the other hand, has a unique messaging style. Not only are you limited by characters (280 as of 2017), but Twitter also has a unique voice and an active community where rumors can spread quickly. Choose your words carefully, be accurate, and don’t shy away from hashtags. It’s okay to be casual in your language here as well, however, public safety organizations should tread carefully, as the platform has become a foundation for controversial political discussions and a hot bed for public relation nightmares. Think twice before you tweet, always look at message from every angle, and make sure you know what a hashtag represents before you use it.


LinkedIn is a social media platform where public safety professionals can really shine, because your content should speak directly to fellow professionals. This platform is dedicated to helping industries learn from each other, so feel free to break out the jargon. Ask questions to encourage engagement, and answer any comments to get the conversation flowing.

  • Plan ahead

Do you know what social media content you’re going to post to your public safety page next week? What about tomorrow? If not, it’s time to start strategizing. Social media channels need more attention than an occasional post after an important event; they need to be nurtured and developed just like any other communications tool. The best way to do this is to plan your social media strategy ahead of time, and schedule your content out as far as possible. This will give you time to plan your content, understand what your goals are, and write the right kind of messaging for each platform.

Social media is an important tool, and it can help your public safety organization educate your community, but only if used correctly. It takes a lot of time and dedication to do social media right, but if you start with these tips, you’ll be headed in the right direction.