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When a Kentucky State Police officer radioed in about a traffic stop he was making, Jodi Shacklette and Nita Franklin set to work.
Shacklette clicked away at her keyboard, peered at five computer monitors mounted at her work station and told the trooper that the driver he was dealing with was someone who had been charged with an assault and multiple instances of driving under the influence.
Both KSP senior police telecommunicators have been doing their job at one post or another for the past 16 years.
That’s an accomplishment, considering the number of trainees and telecommunications academy students they have seen become overwhelmed by three or four call lines ringing at once and radio calls coming in steadily. They have seen people unplug from the telecommunications system, walk out of the room saying they couldn’t handle it and not come back.
National Public Safety Telecommunication Week last week honored the men and women who deal with the stress, help panicked and upset callers, and give officers and other emergency responders information they need to stay safe on the job.
The most important part of the job is keeping officers safe, Shacklette said.
“Our stand is that your dispatcher needs to know where you’re at, or you need to be on good terms with God,” she said.
Shacklette said she and other telecommunicators know the troopers they keep informed and their families. She has heard troopers’ children tell her to keep their fathers safe.
“You do this for a while, and you care about your troopers and you won’t let anything happen to them,” she said.
Telecommunicators also work to help residents, but Shacklette said it’s hard to help anyone when they break down on the Interstate and don’t know where they are because they haven’t been paying attention to road signs. Some drivers ask whether responders can pull up their location by computer, she said.
“It’s not CSI,” she said. “CSI has made our jobs so much harder. I hate that show.”
Some calls are harder to deal with than others.
Shacklette said she took the call April 7 after the fatal shooting of Toni Michelle Ballard.
“You hate to see someone so young throw their life away, and you hate to see someone lose their life,” she said.
Some of those calls stay with her when she goes to bed at night. She remembers some of them years later.
Shacklette said that after each of those difficult calls, telecommunicators have to be focused and polite again as they take the next incoming call.
Jeff Hale, a telecommunicators and National Crime Information Center terminal agency coordinator for the Radcliff Police Department, said all telecommunicators do essentially the same tasks, specializing in the branch of emergency response for which they work.
They might deal with anything, including a simple question, a stolen bike or a pedestrian struck by a vehicle, he said.
Hale said telecommunicators are the public’s first connection to emergency responders, and that conversation sets the tone for the entire experience. He tries to be pleasant, polite and patient.
“You never know when you help somebody,” he said. “Every day, you try to help somebody.”
Hale encourages people to call local telecommunicators and thank them.
Some of them have to be on hand at all times, including nights and holidays, he said.
“I’d say your family is the one that catches the most disappointment sometimes,” he said.
E-911 Center director Bob Hornback agreed that telecommunicators’ schedules and duties aren’t fun.
“It’s the hardest job. It’s the worst job,” he said. “It’s 24 hours a day and seven days a week.”
Besides taking about 50,000 911 calls each year and countless nonemergency calls, E-911 Center telecommunicators input a lot of information into National Crime Information Center for the Hardin County Sheriff’s Department and the county court system, Hornback said.
“We’re quite busy, and we do a lot more than what people think,” he said.
Hornback said he keeps a picture of an iceberg on the wall to remind himself and others that like the tip of an iceberg jutting out of the water, what people see is usually only a small part of what is actually happening.
Amber Coulter can be reached at (270) 505-1746 or email@example.com.