Change at 911 center to keep operators alert and public safe - WECT TV6-WECT.com:News, weather & sports Wilmington, NC

Change at 911 center to keep operators alert and public safe

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Telecommunicators work 12-hour shifts and the new policy will make sure they don't work too many in a row. Telecommunicators work 12-hour shifts and the new policy will make sure they don't work too many in a row.

NEW HANOVER COUNTY (WECT) –The New Hanover County 911 Center serves as a lifeline to first responders and families during an emergency, and a new policy will make sure the men and women who answer those calls are clear headed.

Dispatchers, or telecommunicators, work 12-hour shifts at the 911 center, with only a few breaks instead of the typical lunch hour. The typical career lasts 3-5 years, but manager Debora Cottle said there is still a fair amount of turnover.

"Unfortunately, in this line of work they're up under a microscope," she said. "We're not responding wearing the badges and the guns out in the field, but we're on this side of the telephone."

And supervisors are making sure no one spends too much time on the telephone, according to a new policy. It limits the number of consecutive work days to four.

Cottle said some dispatchers will trade shifts or volunteer to work overtime. It's meant in good faith, but the manager said it can create fatigue and have a negative effect on the employee's health and well-being.

"They need that time away from here so they can go home, recoup, come back and enjoy the job that they were hired to do," said Cottle. "If we're not careful, they'll be here for days on end."

As an example, Cottle said they've had cases where a telecommunicator spends the equivalent of two weeks at the 911 center in only a one week period. The manager said missing details in a call could be a danger to the public.

"Those small details are a matter of life or death or loss of property," she said.

Telecommunicator Roscoe Harris said he appreciates the new policy because his co-workers know their jobs so well that they can lose sight of their own performance.

"Most times you're not going to realize you're starting to have these problems until you're in the middle of it," he said.

Kathryn Strickland, senior supervisor, said they've had previous issues with employees overworking themselves and it was time to have a policy in writing.

The next step in improving the overall experience for telecommunicators in New Hanover County could be exercise equipment, according to Strickland.

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