“9-1-1, Where is your emergency?” is the first thing a person hears when calling 9-1-1.
It is not a secret that emergency dispatchers and 9-1-1 call takers are subjected to intense, horrific and traumatic telephone and radio calls. The citizen calls 9-1-1 because they are having one of the worst days of their life; and the person on the other end of that phone is the key to getting them the help needed. Dispatchers know it is their job to make sure “their” deputies, officers, firefighters, and emergency medical technicians make it home at the end of their shift. The continuous back-to-back calls over the phone and radio, sometimes at the same time, can be extremely stressful, taking an emotional and physical toll on these dedicated men and women.
Emergency Dispatchers and Call Takers for the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) face these challenges everyday. Maricopa County is the 4th largest county in the nation, spanning over 9225 square miles. In addition to its physical size, Maricopa County has also one of the largest jail systems in the nation. With five current jail facilities, and a sixth under construction; upwards of ten thousand inmates, two thousand detention officers, and eight hundred sworn deputies on the road patrolling, this is a lot of people and radio traffic to monitor for the dispatchers.
Some may wonder how the agency supports these amazing dispatchers and call takers. MCSO has had a Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) team for many years. The purpose of this volunteer team is to assist their peers (Sworn, Detention, and Civilian) and their families in times of crisis. The MCSO Communications division currently has two dispatchers, one call taker, one detention dispatch officer and one administrative staff member volunteering on the CISM team. Having communication staff involved with the CISM team can minimize the response time when critical incidents occur or affect the dispatchers and call takers. Because of the current and up-to-date knowledge, the CISM peer is able to provide immediate support to the dispatcher or call taker.
Recently Detention Dispatch Officer Katie Kabel (also a CISM team member) researched and submitted a proposal to incorporate a facility or peer support K9 to the CISM team. The K9 peer support concept was initiated by the interaction of MCSO shelter or evidence animals being brought to the dispatch center for socialization. As a member of the CISM team, Officer Kabel recognized the immediate impact these dogs and puppies were having on the staff. After some research Ofc. Kabel found a news article about another agency (Arizona Department of Transportation) and their facility K9 Fallon. Officer Kabel spoke with K9’s handler about the roles, responsibilities, and benefits of the K9 peer support. The information revealed exciting benefits; positive staff and K9 interaction; lowered stress; improved mental health and wellness; increased community engagement, CISM effectiveness; which sparked the proposal process. Currently the proposal is under review by the chain of command with anticipated acceptance in midsummer 2018.
Because of Ofc. Kabel’s role as a dispatcher, the addition of a peer support K9 would be a huge benefit to the dispatch center. The proposal would have the K9 assigned to the officer and would be a welcomed member of the Gold Line family. K9 peer support is not a new concept, but has recently become more popular with the wellness of employees being put into the forefront. It has been proven that the mere presence of a K9 can begin to reduce the signs of stress with in seconds and further when an employee I allotted time to interact with the K9 the stressors along with physical indicators (blood pressure) are reduced. The proposal for the peer support K9 is not just for the benefit of dispatchers, but for all employees. The goal is to have various interactions with staff and also to respond to the crisis team call outs.
Facility K9 can benefit any agency, to determine if this would be an option for your dispatch center or CISM team, please refer to your current policies and chain of command. The researched and reported statistics can provide a scientific foundation to the positive affect of K9s in the workplace. There are several facility K9 breeders that have animals specifically trained and/or certified for these rolls in peer support.