As a dispatcher for San Francisco 911, over the better part of the past decade I’ve learned that emergencies don’t wait for anyone to be prepared for them. That is the exact reason our department spent thousands of hours and millions of dollars getting ready for our system upgrade. While it is true the transition hasn’t been seamless, I aim to set the record straight. Suggesting anyone should be “scared” to call 911 is simply absurd.
The City’s 911 dispatch has much more to do with human beings who have committed their careers to emergency services than it has to do with any software upgrade. Adjusting to the new system has required us to learn and memorize new techniques that used to be effortless. It has made us feel, only in very specific instances, like we are new dispatchers again.
We are the same group of people getting emergencies handled in San Francisco that we were before the upgrade. We are a well-oiled cooperative of minds, refined skills and big personalities. We follow protocols and time constraints that demand a devastatingly beautiful ballet of accuracy. Since our upgrade we have still processed our usual 4,000-plus calls a day, every day, all day (and throughout the night).
Our new computer system is actually quite similar to our old one. Aside from the computer aspect, the ambulances and patrol cars we send racing through the streets are no fewer, and the care and concern we give every one of your calls is no less. We have sent the Fire Department to many a burning building since our upgrade and the police and medics to your doors. We strive to serve and protect you and your loved ones as we always have within our ever-changing center. This newest adjustment has been as necessary as it is cumbersome for our team.
But here’s the good news: As emergency service workers, whether at dispatch, or in the Police or Fire departments, we are trained to work not only under pressure, but best under pressure.
There are over a hundred 911 dispatchers in San Francisco who have spent their careers learning how to do things right the first time because the safety of The City depends on it. It’s not a responsibility we take lightly, and there is not a dispatcher who wants to go home thinking they could have done something differently for a better outcome. The time that your grandmother had her stroke? That one time you came into your house and found it had been ransacked? These are the extreme difficulties we help callers cope with every single day.
It is our daily task to manage your once-in-a-lifetime emergency, and to execute that to the best of our ability and resources available. We are trained professionals who give the proper instructions to tie off umbilical cords when a baby just couldn’t wait to be born at the hospital. We send officers to you immediately even when you’re not sure if what you just heard outside was gunfire or fireworks.
Citizens of San Francisco and callers in need alike, don’t be afraid to trust 911 with your emergencies. It’s our job to handle them.
Jasmine M. Pomeroy is a San Francisco 911 dispatcher, badge No. 169.