Recently I sat on a panel titled, “Telling You Where to Go.”

Four 911 Dispatchers including myself spent 30 minutes talking to a room full of public safety writers, most with experience in public safety. Our moderator, a retired California officer stated that when he was on the street and things went crazy, the one thing he could count on was the calm, steady voice of his dispatcher.

This sentiment is not uncommon. Most of the field responders that I’ve spoken to throughout the years seem to have two things in common. First, they really don’t know what we do or what we go through on a daily basis. Second, they relied on the fact that we would be that calm voice in the storm when things got hairy. How could this be? How was it possible that every dispatcher in every center throughout the country, and I imagine the world, had this trait in common?

I don’t remember taking a class during the academy on how to keep my cool to the point where my voice changed. And this change in tone absolutely happens.

We were encouraged to listen to the tape of our emergency traffic after the fact for training. I did that on a number of occasions. I remember going into the room to listen and thinking back to how I felt inside when the situation happened. My adrenaline was pumping. I felt super focused and on-point. Inside I was amped. I was sure that my voice would express that. After all, how could it not?

Then the tape would roll. I’d hear this voice that didn’t really sound like me anyway but as the situation played out, I’d listen to this calm, in​-​control woman handle the emergency as if she were ordering lunch. People are shooting at you? Trying to kill you? An angry mob? Cars crashing all over the place? High speed pursuit? Running through dark alleys with your gun drawn trying to stop the bad guy and not die? Yep, got it. Helps on the way. Can I get fries with that?

It was uncanny how different the voice sounded from the way it felt and the memory in my mind.  Aside from how we learn how to do this, it’s important to understand how important this skill/talent is. It’s essential for three reasons:

Keeps the field calm

This is the first thing field responders will tell you. When they are out there dealing with the craziness, whether it’s a violent situation, a fire or a cardiac arrest, having the person giving them information and getting them the help they need have a calm, soothing, “We’ve got this,” tone helps them regulate their own emotional response.

It’s just like when someone calls 911 and then complains that the operator was distant and somewhat cold. Did you want the helper to get amped up too? Did you want them to get all immersed in your emergency so that you now have two people freaking out? I didn’t think so.

It’s the same with the field. Even though field responders have their own training and ability to emotionally regulate during emergencies that calm voice helps them accomplish this. Yeah, you’re in the dirt rolling around with a three time felon with no intention of going back to prison, but you’re going to be okay. When you’re done handling business, let’s go get a latte.

Sets the tone for the situation

In the same way that our calmness helps keep the field responders focused and calm, it also sets the tone for the whole situation. Often an officer is amped up and their voice indicates it when they ask for the help they need. As they shout out directions and give information, it often stays amped up. All the units that are coming to help that officer are hearing this and it’s amping them up. When the calm tone of the dispatcher comes on to repeat the information and direct the incoming units, it takes things down a notch, or two or three.

With your voice, you can redirect the entire situation. Also, when you have to listen to yourself on the news over and over for the next week or so, it’s always better not to be part of the chaos. That’s cringe-worthy.

Keeps us calm

Maintaining a calm tone also helps us emotionally regulate.

Even though we are not on-scene, we are affected by the situation. We might only be there in our minds, but we are definitely there. When we remind ourselves that we are trained to handle this kind of chaos and that we are going to do the best darn job to help the situation to a successful, safe conclusion, it helps us regulate all those chemicals coursi​​ng through us and focus on the task at hand.

It might be a severely awful situation, but we don’t have the luxury of freaking out right now. We can freak out later if we’d like. But, not now. Now, we must have a calm voice and keep ourselves regulated so we can keep our field responders calm and regulated.

And we do. We do it well. Field responders tell us that all the time. We hear the voices of our colleagues on the news and smile at their calmness. We know that we are truly the calm in the storm and we’re proud of that.

By​ Michelle Perin​​ ​|