911 dispatcher quiet room: A place for operators to decompress

- Dozens of times a day, 911 dispatchers help people through the worst time of their lives. Dispatchers will tell you no call is the same and certain calls are more difficult than others.

But at one valley dispatch center, there's a place they can go to try to decompress.

On any given day, dispatchers may take calls involving child drownings, burglaries in progress or even police officers they know who are shot in the line of duty. They make split decisions in stressful situations to get people the help they need.

It's a stressful job, so what happens when they take an especially tough call?

For dispatchers in Maricopa County, there's a place they can go -- something of a sanctuary -- to try and find some peace.

Inside the Sheriff's Office headquarters in downtown Phoenix, dispatchers work around the clock, handling up to 800, 911 that come in on daily basis.

"We've taken so many calls that even me being here so long, my head's spinning as I leave," said Jennifer Johnson.

Johnson has been a dispatcher with MCSO for 23 years and is now a supervisor for the department. She admits the stress can take its toll.

"We have to make very, very immediate decisions and very important decisions based on how you call in," she said. "Anything involving a child is very stressful. A lot of people working in here have kids and they kind of relate it to their own kids."

MCSO's new headquarters was built with the latest high-tech equipment, but there's one room where simplicity is key. It's called the Quiet Room.

"It's just kind of to collect.. maybe after you've had a stressful call.. to come in here and collect your thoughts," said Johnson.

The room is purposely sparse. A couch, a chair and a balcony to get some fresh air.

Johnson says with each dispatcher handling about 150 calls per shift, it's important to have a place to decompress after especially tough calls.

"We work non-stop calls and a lot of us work extra shifts, so it's nice that we can come in here and get a little bit of a breather."

Johnson says one of the hardest things for dispatchers is they often don't know the outcome of a call which are sometimes matters of life and death.

"I think the worst for us is not knowing how the call ends. We don't get to sometimes follow up with the deputy on what happened, so sometimes, we leave here kind of stressed out."

Johnson says the room doesn't get used that often, but it's comforting for the dispatchers to know it's there for them, whenever they need it.

"Some people sometimes get very upset and just kind of come in here and hide from everybody."

 

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