Posted by Dr. Kelly R. Rasmussen


I often tell people most of what I've learned I learned from 9-1-1. After nearly 3 decades of being immersed in the industry, I can honestly say, I am still amazed at the lessons I have gained from emergency dispatch!

Here are just 5 of the coolest lessons I use from all my years in the Emergency Communications Center (from Dispatcher to Director). 

1) Erase all fear and just take action. The first time I answered the 911 phone I was a nervous wreck. (And back then, it was pre-911, so I answered it "Sheriff's Office).  When the woman wanted to know what time the parade started, I couldn't help but wonder why that was an emergency to her? I answered another, and another, and still, there were no earth-shattering emergency issues. That gave me confidence to keep pushing the connect button and keep going with the flow. Likewise, learning to be a supervisor or director, I remembered to use the same principle. I needed to lead and guide and not be afraid. People wanted to see action. 

2) Listen. Imagine my trauma when I did answer one of my first 911 calls and a male was reporting his brother had hung himself in the shower. I had to listen. I asked questions yes, but I was more attracted to how he was reporting than what he was reporting. He was calm, he knew it had been coming. The caller had a calming effect on me. That helped me turn it around for when he called back!

3) Empathize. This skill has faded immensely with the instant messaging and emoticons and emoji's. I've noticed in our online classes when the 911 dispatcher must save a suicidal caller via our "text-to-911" practical that the empathy is very difficult to articulate. It is all about identifying with the feeling, not the actions or behaviors. If someone is having a bad day in line in front of you, or at the counter, or on the phone, it does not matter. Ask/or say, "It sounds like you're frustrated (or sad, angry, confused, etc..) The person usually stops in their tracks and has a "duh" moment and then recognizes that you see & hear what they are feeling. With suicidal callers, it's not about the action, it's about choices. And they cannot see any other choices through the feelings. You have to call out (name) the feelings and to see them for what they are. Those are obstacles to problem-solving. There are other options, usually people are blinded by the overwhelming feelings. Try to empathize with the person and the options will open up. 

4) BE your words. There is a saying in dispatch that there's too much drama or people like to be in everybody's business. We actually have a class titled "Incivility - poison in the workplace water cooler" because people have forgotten that words DO HURT people. And usually this is because HURT PEOPLE HURT PEOPLE! We have to be more thoughtful before we open up and just say stuff instantaneously. This includes texting, email, phone, radio, and all over in life. Practice holding your words until they come out meaningful (minus all the blinding feelings). 

5) Be Happier. I always knew that no matter the type of call or caller on each phone call, that there would be someone even worse off. I knew my life was pretty okay at the end of the shift because I became more aware of others' struggles and obstacles and dire straits. We can adopt a "why me" attitude of why the world seems against us, or we can choose to be happier and ask "why not me" for deserving all the good that is in store, if only we go for it! Then again, that starts with #1 - see above! Be more - you deserve your best! That's how you Answer the Call for 

Just call me Dr. Kelly :)
Dr. Kelly R. Rasmussen