On Friday, after I got off from my twelve hour shift at work, I drove down to Lander University to attend an Active Shooter training designed specifically for Dispatchers and Telecommunicators. Put on by one of the SLED officers, it was an amazing class full of facts and statistics, but more importantly, personal accounts, stories, and emotions.
The officer made it clear from the beginning that Dispatchers and Call Takers in a Communications Center were just as valuable, if not more critical, than the officers on the ground. He made it know that it is time to accept that we are a part of the first responder family. Those of us who work in the Communications Center are no longer civilians. Without our voices behind the radio, officers would never receive the call. Would not be able to respond.
As he shared his experiences of talking with and interviewing the dispatchers and first responders that responded to Sandy Hook and Aurora, as well as countless other incidents, he put the faces and names of the victims up on the screen. He had us look at them and listen as he told us who they were, what made them special. He made them real for us.
He made sure that while we classify these incidents as “Active Shooter” incidents, these acts were not about guns, it is a issue about violence. It doesn’t matter if a subject uses a gun or a knife, a car or a hammer, the goal is the same: to inflict as many casualties as possible by any means necessary. These acts are pure evil, and the only way you can combat evil is to become a warrior and face it head on. To crush its head beneath your feet.
His passion was evident in every word and syllable that he spoke. “Law enforcement runs towards the sound of gunfire,” he told us. “We bleed so that the kids don’t.” The goal of first responders in a mass casualty incident is to save as many lives as possible, but to do that, they have to stop the killing first, then stop the dying.
The sooner an officer engages with a subject, the quicker the killing stops. And before an officer can respond, a call taker must gather a location and a dispatcher must give out the call over the radio. This is the critical step between Telecommunicators and first responders on the ground.
The remainder of the class, we talked about what Dispatchers can do from behind the radio, saving lives through proactively supporting those who arrive first on the scene. From organizing staging and containment to getting more resources before the requests are made, to gathering and providing information collected through callers.
When a disaster hits, be it a active shooter incident or a tornado or the death of someone in front of you, you have to make a choice. You have to move. You have to act. Do you flee or fight? Do you falter or freeze?
Like the stages of grief, there are three stages of responding to a disaster. The quicker you move through them, the faster you act. Denial. Deliberation. Decisive moment.
We all want to believe that something would never happen to us. We want to believe that “it”(whatever it happens to be) cant or wont happen here. But the fact isn’t if it will happen, but when. And when it does, you have to face the reality of it. Denial has no survival value.
You must deliberate at what you will do. And until you are in that moment, you will not know the choice that you will make. But that choice is made through experience and training and preparation (or the lack of it). And once that choice is made, you must act.
The quicker you act, the more lives you will save. The quicker you respond, the faster your units get in route. The faster law enforcement personnel is notified, the quicker the killing stops.
The more you train and prepare yourself for what will happen, the quicker you make that decision. The sooner we can stop the dying.
When we, dispatchers and telecommunicators, get behind the mike, we are no longer civilians. We become lifelines and support for our officers and first responders. We take up that mantle of the warrior and fight the darkness and evil of the world that threatens to destroy what we have come to love.
One of the things the SLED officer said was that the only way into the Warrior Class, as he called it, was to learn how to love something. To love with all your heart. And until we learn to love, we will never rise to be warriors to fight to protect our communities.
It’s not enough to hope that we know how to react, but we have to train to be warriors. We have to get angry and let the rage give us the strength to fight. We have to learn to go on the offensive instead of constantly thinking defensively. But most importantly, we have to learn to love.
In the end, dispatchers and first responders get paid for what we are prepared to do.
As I headed home after the four hour training, I was filled with courage and the knowledge knowing that when the next big thing happen, I know a more than I did before and that training could mean the difference between saving someones life and having their name on another board full of victims.