So, I had something else entirely lined up to write about this week, and I know I promised I would never be topical, but there’s been some controversy around how the 9-1-1 call from Cleveland kidnap victim Amanda Berry was handled, and I’d like to add my two cents.
Now, remember, just last week I shared my most memorable call, and included all my faults and weaknesses in the story. There’s no judgment here; only respect.
I first heard the call in its entirety from Through the Eyes of a 9-1-1 Dispatcher (another facebook page I’ve only recently started following) when they posted this link from an NBC News affiliate Monday evening. In fact, that was the first word of the story I had heard at all, and I was more interested in listening to the dispatch tape than I was in the story of the kidnapping and recovery — as miraculous as that was.
Honestly, my initial reactions were much along the same lines of criticism that I’m hearing is the controversy: the call-taker was somewhat abrupt (normal in our line of work), was led by the caller (instead of the other way around), and was clearly trying to get off of the call (rather than staying on the line until help arrived).
Yes, I thought those same things. Then I remembered: WE ARE ALL HUMAN BEINGS PRONE TO MAKING MISTAKES. (Witness my most memorable call.)
I promise you, my initial reaction to someone calling my center and telling me they were a kidnap victim who’s been missing for ten years and had just escaped would have been utter and total disbelief. As in, “Say, what?!”
I thought that was the end of it. Then today Prince Charming wanted to play the tape for me, but honestly I don’t even know what his opinion was because I cut him off that I had already heard it, and immediately jumped to the defense of the calltaker. (Sorry, honey.)
I’m sure Cleveland is a kick-ass busy center. I’m sure they have to absolutely triage each call quickly and efficiently and move on to the next call. I could tell from the call that the victim was safe at a neighbor’s and in no immediate danger. Again, my initial reaction would have been one of disbelief.
Would I have hoped I handled it differently than the Cleveland calltaker? Yes. Would that in fact have actually happened? Who knows.
It’s easy to be an armchair quarterback when you’ve never thrown a pass in your life, much less thrown that pass at goal-to-go on the fourth down of a play-off game with seconds left and you’re down by four. (Yes, I can drag out an analogy with the best of ‘em.)
We get trained the best we can, we follow the policies of our center the best we can, if we have time we try to convey some empathy. Sometimes, there’s just not enough time. Sometimes to control the caller you have to use some other tone of voice.
Then later today, I saw that Diary of a Mad Dispatcher had commented about this controversy (the press of which I assume brought it to Prince Charming’s attention). Here is an excerpt from her comment:
Have you ever worked a major event? I am not by any means trying to be mean or condescending to anyone, however until you have had that experience you have no idea. Sometimes we cannot stay on the line, sometimes we have to disconnect from someone who is currently in a SAFE place. The suspect was not on scene at the time. She was secure at a neighbors resd. She had access to a phone if he returned to the scene. She asked her if she needed police fire or ems, the female asked for police not ems so therefore she was not injured or she would have asked for both. Other emergencies DO NOT stop happening because another one is already in progress. If the phones are ringing off the hook you are still responsible for the incoming emergencies. The dispatcher was not emotionally involved, true. We are NOT supposed to become emotionally involved with a caller. Our level heads and split second decisions cannot be overcome with emotions during an emergency. That is why they call us, because we have to put the situation in control. Remember this may be you one day, you may have to make the decision between a safe caller that is crying and missing the call of a caller that is not safe and unable to answer when you call back. KMK
You can see, she’s thinking much along the same lines that I was. But some of her followers’ comments back were along the lines of this one:
The dispatcher was horrible. Amanda told the dispatcher she had been kidnapped and missing for 10 years. Just because in that moment she was free..who’s to say her kidnapper hadn’t discovered she was gone and possibly trying to find her. Lord only knows what could have happened if he caught her again after her attempt to escape? Thank God the girls are safe. The dispatcher did not need to become emotionally involved but his/her tone was quite indifferent and a bit insensitive. I know dispatchers deal with a lot of calls and “false alarms”. We must be careful in any job not to fall into a routine of medicrocy and make sure our best effort is given to everyone at all times. Especially when you are in the life-saving business such as myself.
Or this one:
Honestly, not impressed. Are you injured? Do you know if he has weapons? Stay on the line with me I’m going to stay here with you until help arrives. Take a deep breath I know you’re scared, but lock the doors and stay where you are. So simple, plus about a thousand other questions…whose house are you at? I mean c’mon guys the whole we don’t know what else was happening is crap. The definition of our job is to multitask and triage and this person did neither. I work by myself and can adequately handle more than one call at a time. I’m sure most of us can. Something like this, wouldn’t you put it out as all units copy and any available respond to? This is a priority call. What happens when you disconnect and he finds her, takes off, and you don’t know what happened? There’s no excuse for this type of complacency.
Finally, this evening, PSTC, a respected dispatch training organization, posted this comment on their facebook page:
Here is the entire (unedited) call from Amanda Berry. It is under scrutiny according to Cleveland Police. I for one feel the call taker didn’t ask enough questions and didn’t stay on the phone until responders arrived. Go the extra mile, she’s a kidnap victim!
with this video:
Naturally, this video evokes much stronger emotions than just listening to the audiotape.
. . . . . .
And you know what? EVERYONE IS RIGHT. I don’t have problems with opinions. I have problems with the delivery of those opinions. Where is everyone’s compassion for this calltaker?
Are there lessons to be learned from this call? Absolutely.
But again, would ANY OF US have handled it perfectly? Absolutely not.
Let’s cut that calltaker a break, shall we? Give ‘em a pat on the back for “mission accomplished.” Then let their agency attend to any training or customer service issues that their agency wants to address — in private. Please, don’t let that investigation be media-driven!
Were any FATAL mistakes made? NO! Police were dispatched within a minute (I’ve seen reports of six seconds) and on scene in under five. The call-taker may not have recognized the name of the victim or known it was real, but they still apparently followed their center’s policy and notified a supervisor. THE SYSTEM WORKED. It was a great outcome.
YES: We should avoid complacency.
YES: We should avoid mediocrity.
YES: We should offer empathy and compassion.
YES: We should learn from our mistakes.
BECAUSE WE ARE HUMAN AND WE WILL MAKE THEM AGAIN… AND AGAIN… AND AGAIN.
Welcome to life. It’s one long lesson.