Across the country and around the world, change is as unpredictable as the next call in emergency dispatch. And at Snohomish (SNO911) 911, Washington (USA), emergency communication staff is predictably proactive in supporting their callers, responders, and co-workers, as shown in their collaboration during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Their dedication is inspiring, said Kurt Mills, Executive Director for Snohomish County 911. “They are at the front lines and not wavering,” which, as he said, doesn’t come as a surprise, considering the solemn responsibility ingrained in their profession.
“Staff is answering the calls to support the mission [literally and figuratively],” Mills said. “They appreciate the proactive efforts we’re taking, and we have not seen any spikes in absenteeism.”
Early on, staff was split between the primary and secondary centers to allow greater social distancing for staff on duty. Safety precautions in the communication center include required temperature checks, with a “few folks,” Mills said, who were not allowed to return to the center until meeting the mandatory seven-day since symptom onset and 72-hour fever free guidelines. A bridge MOU (memorandum of understanding) provides additional sick leave for COVID-19 related absences dating back to the Feb. 29 state of emergency declaration. The recent federal law in place keeps them covered going forward.
Childcare was a “huge concern” when schools closed, Mills said, but they were addressed through mutually agreed upon schedule adjustments.
Non-dispatch staff is working 100% on COVID-19 related planning, response and coordination. Emergency dispatchers shine in their ability to adjust rapidly to situations and it’s no different during the pandemic, Mills said. For example, earlier this week, an emergency dispatcher noting a cluster of responses to a care facility immediately alerted the medical director and agency chiefs as a precaution to protect crews entering the care facility. The cluster had occurred over a course of several hours and not picked up by automated systems.
Mills said the hope is seeing a light at the end of the tunnel in the coming weeks and, in the meantime, “We’re finding inspiration in our duty to serve our community and care for those who need us.”
On January 21, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Washington State Department of Health announced the first case of 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in the United States in Washington State. On March 23, 2020, Washington Governor Jay Inslee ordered a “stay-at-home” order immediately for all Washington residents for at least two weeks. As of March 28, Washington state had 4,896 confirmed cases and 195 fatalities attributed to the virus.
By the end of March, 16 states have issued “stay-at-home” orders, requiring that approximately 40% of U.S. citizens remain at home.
SNO911 is a combined police, fire, and EMS communication center and serves 45 police and 800,000 people just north of Seattle, Washington.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR : Audrey Fraizer is Managing Editor of the Journal.