Tragedy in Aurora 7/20/12

I was trying to check out the Aurora, Colorado, Police Department’s website, to see if they had any information about how many dispatchers they have. The site is unreachable, and I suspect the server cannot handle the traffic load hitting it right now.
However many dispatchers were on duty last night, it wasn’t enough. Many people did not get through when they dialed 9-1-1, simply because the phone system is not designed to handle that many calls all at one time, and there were only a relatively few people available to answer. HUNDREDS of calls came in simultaneously , and dispatchers had to try and answer every one possible. Panicked callers, screaming into tiny cell phone microphones, screaming crowds in the background, people hanging up and trying again, all combine to make an incident like this something that tests the mettle of a dispatch center.
Aurora is a city of 325,000. That means the 9-1-1 center is almost always active, even in the middle of the night. On top of this tragedy, normal traffic continues unabated. Heart attacks still happen, car crashes still occur, fires break out, babies decide to be born early, and the clueless call 9-1-1 over barking dogs.
News reports tell of over 200 police units on the scene, scores of ambulances, fire trucks, and who knows what else. Practically every one of those people had a radio with them, and expected their needs to be met 5 minutes ago every time they keyed their microphones. That’s the job of the dispatcher.
When the stories of this event are told, few of them will include the dispatchers behind the scenes. The people who came back to work after having just left. The people who came in to cover without being called. Dispatchers in other jurisdictions will come in today, and the next few days, to relieve those who ended up working 18 hours straight dealing with this crisis. (and even though it looks like it was over in a few hours, it wasn’t. Units will be in the field dealing with this for days. Dispatchers will need to be there to back them up, and they will be.) On top of all that has gone on, and will be going on in the next several days, all the regular stuff will continue, and the Aurora dispatchers will handle it in such a way that few will notice a difference in the service they get when they call 9-1-1.
These are the kind of people I have the honor to work with, and I know that if we ever endure a tragedy like this in Tulare County, we’ll see the same behind-the-scenes heroics here that I know are going on right now in Aurora.
That’s just how dispatchers roll.

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