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Beating Burnout: Protecting the Best Resource in Your Center

In the high-stress environment of an emergency communications center (ECC), burnout, compassion fatigue, and anxiety can take a heavy toll on the mental health and well-being of 911 professionals. It is a crisis of national proportions that is plaguing our ECCs today. Many  telecommunicators are feeling overwhelmed, unmotivated, and uninspired, causing them to lose their passion and fire for the job. There is no mistaking or downplaying the crucialness of our heroes behind the headset. They are the first line of response in times of crisis, the strongest link in the chain of public safety, coordinating emergency services, handling distressing calls and providing instructions to callers. So why in our communications centers today, are these people not being protected, valued, and upheld as the vital resources that they are?

The leadership in the ECC is critical to combating burnout and fatigue in the 911 center. However, it is essential for staff (at all levels) to recognize the signs in their team members and take proactive steps to address these issues. By creating a supportive and inclusive work environment, they can foster a culture of well-being and resilience among telecommunicators.           

One vital way that 911 leadership can help combat some of the negative mental and emotional challenges that 911 telecommunicators face is by prioritizing the mental health and well-being of their team members. This can be accomplished by giving their telecommunicators all the training and tools to do the job efficiently. Quality training and quality continuing dispatch education means that their headset heroes will have the ability to truly succeed and thrive. Let’s look at some ways we can demonstrate care for our people’s general well-being:

Access and Awareness

We cannot do better about something if we don’t have a solid understanding of it and its consequences. It’s not enough to merely hold in-service training about mental wellness or to pass some literature around about your agency’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP). We need to be seriously, emphatically, and steadily educating our people on services that will help them to be in the best mental space (on and off the job). We need to be facilitating or hosting training that raises awareness of what it looks like to struggle with burnout and compassion fatigue, and what we can do to ensure that we don’t stay that way.

What this looks like is providing access to mental health resources, offering peer support programs, and promoting self-care practices. It looks like encouraging our 911 professionals to take breaks, engage in stress-relief activities, and seek professional help when needed. Replacing broken equipment in the ECC is easy, but replacing a passionate, loyal, or driven telecommunicator that has quit because of mental exhaustion is not as easy a task.

Recognition and Celebration

When the right help gets to the right place at the right time in an emergency, that is a giant win for everyone involved. It is especially important to recognize the telecommunications who were the vital link between individuals in need and the responders on the ground.  Are we making sure that our telecommunicators are recognized enough for the essential work that we do? Because we should be.

911 can be a thankless, oftentimes underappreciated job.  When recognition and appreciation is lacking, we in the ECC should be making extra effort to celebrate our staff. This can look like sharing with other public safety departments or organizations about successful calls.  The calls don’t always have to be the most monumental calls for service, excellent service may be received on the most routine calls.  Recognition can look like in-house awards too. A great practice is to implement an awards system at your agency that spotlights your most productive telecommunicators in categories like, “Highest Call Taker,” or “Most Compliant Call Taker,” or “Best Customer Service,” or “Most Valuable Team Player.”

Promoting Resiliency

Protecting the mental well-being of telecommunicators is paramount to ensuring the efficacy and sustainability of emergency response systems. Long hours, high-stress situations, and the constant exposure to trauma can lead to burnout, compassion fatigue, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Therefore, it's imperative to implement strategies that promote resilience and provide support. But what does resiliency training look like in the ECC?

The most effective resiliency training helps build the “emotional muscles” of our people. If they can have more education on what to do after tough calls and have more training on how to process those hard emotions, then they can be more emotionally equipped to deal with the chaos that comes with the job. Another key element in building resiliency is strengthening the self-awareness of our people and fostering empathy. Team-building exercises are a very effective way to tear down those barriers and build, restore, or reinforce foundations of trust, transparency and self-awareness.

Additionally, promoting open communication channels allows telecommunicators to debrief after difficult incidents, share experiences, and seek guidance when needed. We should be teaching our people how to have those difficult conversations and how to address the subject of mental health with each other.

Providing Effective Training

Now, let’s talk about one of the most vital strategies for protecting the emotional and mental well-being of our 911 telecommunicators. This is ensuring they have the necessary training and knowledge to do the job that is expected of them while feeling like they are fully supported in their roles in the ECC. The most effective way to do this is to provide comprehensive and continuous training.

Training equips telecommunicators with the skills, knowledge, and confidence needed to navigate the complexities of their role effectively. Beyond technical proficiency, training should also include learning points and strategies on how to employ customer service skills, empathy, and humanity in the job. Dispatch Pro (through Police Legal Sciences) is valuable online training that provides thorough evaluations of real 9-1-1 calls while addressing all aspects of call taking.  It emphasizes keeping customer service, compassion, and situational awareness at the forefront of call taking while managing your own mental health.

Safeguarding the well-being of 911 professionals is more important than ever before.  Today, the prevailing crisis of staffing shortages in our ECCs demonstrates the need for urgent attention and concerted action. Leadership in ECCs must prioritize creating a nurturing and supportive environment that champions mental health and promotes resilience in their most important resource: the telecommunicators.




bySamantha Hawkins CMCP

Samantha is a PSAP Professional and Trainer for Moetivations, Inc. She teaches nationally on a variety of emergency communications topics as well as conducting health and wellness training for law enforcement.  She is currently serving as an Editorial Committee member for the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials (APCO) and holds her Center Manager Certification Program (CMCP) certification.

PLS provides real life training which is engaging and covers a variety of topics. Their training helps telecommunicators stay interested in learning and can help keep burnout at bay.  To request a free demo, click on the “Contact Us” link at the top of the page. 


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