Recognizing Public Safety Telecommunicators Week - Camp Lejeune Globe: Carolina Living

Recognizing Public Safety Telecommunicators Week

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Posted: Tuesday, April 16, 2019 3:31 pm

Working as a unit is an essential part of life for Marines and Sailors on Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune and Marine Corps Air Station New River. In a high pressure environment such as the military, nothing can function without proper communication, teamwork and reinforcement from a team perspective. The same can be said for public safety telecommunication dispatchers on MCB Camp Lejeune.

Working in teams of four, dispatchers and their supervisors need to keep communication clear and concise among themselves, emergency service personnel and the people they are trying to help. In commemoration for their hard work in a high-pressure, year-round job, the week of April 15 is recognized as Public Safety Telecommunicators Week across the nation.

Dispatchers don’t have a typical day. Over the course of a 12-hour shift, dispatchers never know what to expect. During the first week in April , dispatchers at Camp Lejeune received 1,519 calls, all of which were treated as if they could be an emergency.

“You can’t go by day to day,” said Amber Lanier, a dispatcher with Camp Lejeune’s emergency services division. “You go call to call. … We have to be prepared mentally for an emergency any time that phone rings.”

Lanier has been working in dispatch since 1997. She began her stint on Camp Lejeune in 2001. Even while taking a brief moment to speak about her profession, she’s not clocked out. She wears her headset, relaying information from public safety personnel across various radio channels. When a call comes in, she springs into action, relaying information to fellow dispatcher Cortney Pierce both verbally and through her Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) system. Emergencies don’t take a break to chat, and neither can Lanier.

That was particularly apparent during the onslaught of damage during Hurricane Florence in 2018. Lanier was one of seven dispatchers who stayed in the office for several days throughout the storm. Three dispatchers and a supervisor handled calls, while a fifth person was tasked with handling situations arising from power outages throughout the building. Water leaked through the roof of the old Provost Marshal’s Office as dispatchers continued to take calls and direct emergency service personnel to people in need. Dispatchers Kelly Keating and Katie Phifer directed rescue efforts for days with the assistance of their supervisor, Sheryl Hargrove.

“They (dispatchers) couldn’t leave,” said Dispatch Supervisor Amanda Scott. “Others couldn’t get in because of the flooding. A lot of them didn’t know what condition their homes would be in when they got back.”

Along with emergencies such as hurricanes, dispatchers on Camp Lejeune face other unique difficulties. New Marines and Sailors come into town on a regular basis due to permanent changes of station (PCS) or to conduct training. That increases the importance of communication among dispatchers.

“Sometimes we have to work off landmarks to figure out where someone is,” Lanier said. “It’s important to verify everything with a caller.”

Thanks to newer technology, locating a caller has become a bit easier.

“Thanks to cell phones, we have the ability to find out where they (callers) are,” Pierce said. “A majority of the time, it puts us within feet of where they called from.”

“If we have a 911 call from a cell, we go use latitude and longitude to find a location if need be,” Lanier added.

The situation on base is not so different from other places as to the types of calls dispatchers answer.

“Anything you’d see out in town happens here,” Scott said. “Cars get broken into, domestic violence calls. You name it.”

Dispatchers on Camp Lejeune and MCAS New River have another significant role, and that is the education of children on proper 911 procedures. The 911 for Kids program involves first- and second-grade students and teaches them how to dial 911, the dangers of playing on a phone and the importance of knowing their address and phone number.

“We try to get out to the schools once or twice a year,” said Dispatcher Lovey McLaughlin, who is in charge of the program on base. “We let them know they’ll be talking to one of us. We like to let them know what an emergency is. If we can catch them young, it helps. We want to take the fear out of talking to a stranger on the phone.”

Lanier notes that the individuals on scene are the ones doing the heavy lifting.

“They’re the ones who see and touch everything,” Lanier said. “We have to listen. … I can’t say enough about those men and women. They do the best they can. We’re only as good as the information we’re given.”

A Special Thanks to Marine Corp Base Camp Lejeune Dispatchers 

Sarah Anderson 
Kathleen Dalrymple
Sheryl Hargrove
Kelly Keating
Amber Lanier 
Bethany Leggins
Lovey McLaughlin
Brian Pawlowski
Katie Phifer
Cortney Pierce
Amanda Scott
Jennifer Shryock
Krystal Walsh
Kaila Walton

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