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“Beyond the Voice of 9-1-1 Dispatch”

Photo by Shari Harris
Terra Culley has written a book about life while wearing a dispatch headset.

By Shari Harris, Publisher

When Terra Culley became a part-time dispatcher nearly 24 years ago, she had no idea it would lead to her penning monthly newspaper columns that now have been compiled into a book. November 29 was the release date for “Beyond the Voice of 9-1-1 Dispatch.” It is a collection of some of her favorite columns, long enjoyed by readers of The Licking News, The Cabool Enterprise and the Houston Herald.

“It never even occurred to me that I’d ever write,” said Culley, who uses the columns, and now the book to provide insight into what a dispatcher deals with on a daily basis.

Her love for and dedication to the job have taken her from part-time dispatcher at Wri-Tex E-9-1-1 to full-time dispatcher, to trainer, and to her current position as Assistant Director at Texas County Emergency Services 9-1-1. She is in charge of the mapping and training for the department, as well as helping out at the dispatch desk as needed.

Since the shutdown of schools and some businesses in the spring of 2020 due to COVID, the number of calls related to domestic assaults, suicides and drug overdoses have increased and don’t seem to be declining, causing a greater urgency in calls.

Every call the dispatchers answer is taken seriously, and as Culley says, “There’s a lot more to it than being under the headset.” Thus the photo on the cover of her book shows the headset hanging from a tree branch.

Regardless of the type of call that comes in, dispatchers must respond calmly and be prepared to tell how to assist with an emergency, while sending help to the scene. Their essential role in the dispatch seat sets into action the physical response to the emergency by first responders. Their instructions to callers can be life-saving while waiting for responders to arrive. But some emergencies are harder to hear than others, and the dispatcher’s role ends when responders arrive. The dispatcher moves on to the next call, not knowing the outcome for the distraught person they just spent several minutes helping. The mental/emotional effects of the job can be great. Some dispatchers-in-training realize after their first call that the job is not for them.

The essential service is still classified as an Office and Administration Support Occupation by the State of Missouri, so dispatchers don’t qualify for the same mental health benefits as first responders. Lobby efforts by the 9-1-1 State Board are underway to reclassify dispatch as a Protective Service Occupation. This is Culley’s goal; she recognizes the problems with PTSD in dispatch and the reclassification would allow increased access to mental health resources.

The ongoing training required for dispatchers is vital, and peer review is also done with certain calls, picking it apart to find ways to constantly improve. Culley takes the responsibility of dispatching very seriously. She adds writing to her already busy schedule to bring awareness to the citizens she serves, further improving the ability of her and other dispatchers to respond.

“Anything that highlights or helps our profession is great,” she added.

“Beyond the Voice of 9-1-1 Dispatch” is available online at Amazon or through the author, with plans underway to offer it at The Licking News office.

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