The N.C. General Assembly took an important step last month to clarify the essential role of 911 telecommunicators as part of the public safety network. With support from the North Carolina 911 Board, the House and Senate read statements that 911 telecommunicators should be recognized as first responders and shown appreciation for the dedication and service they render to their communities and the state.
When an emergency happens, the public calls 9-1-1. The 911 telecommunicator who answers that call is professionally trained to act as the "first" first responder, interacting with the caller experiencing a stressful and traumatic event to get important information about the emergency and relay it to the first responders in the field. However, at all levels of government, 911 telecommunicators historically have not been recognized as part of the public safety network. They have been treated as serving in administrative or call center roles, in part because they perform administrative tasks when not actively answering 911 calls.
"Our 911 telecommunicators are essential to public safety in North Carolina and work the same grueling hours and stressful emergencies as police, fire and medical personnel," said Jim Weaver, chair of the N.C. 911 Board and secretary of the N.C. Department of Information Technology. "They hear cries of devastation but act as the voice of calm, guiding both callers and first responders in the field in often traumatic situations and they should be recognized appropriately for their role."
911 telecommunicators are trained and skilled at simultaneously gathering information from the caller and dispatching emergency personnel in the field while entering data into highly complex technological platforms to ensure rapid and correct response. Additionally, North Carolina law requires 911 telecommunicators to be trained to provide life-saving medical guidance when the situation calls for it.
"As the 'first' first responders, these individuals deserve recognition and respect for the difficult role they serve in ensuring the safety of North Carolina's residents and visitors in helping to protect North Carolinians,” said L.V. Pokey Harris, executive director of the N.C. 911 Board. "While there is still much to be done in our state and across the country to get 911 telecommunicators classified as first responders, this step by the legislature lays the foundation for that work in N.C."
In North Carolina, more than 3,000 dedicated citizens work as 911 telecommunicators, working around the clock every day to answer 7 million calls a year. 911 telecommunicators are local government employees, and the N.C. 911 Board does not hire, compensate or set their salaries.
Harris added: "The board encourages the employing local governments to recognize the telecommunicators for their difficult job and consider these individuals as part of their public safety network when setting compensation."