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So, How Exactly Does An Emergency Dispatch Center Work Anyway? Here's What To Know

In Oxygen's new series, "911 Crisis Center," viewers get to see what happens on the other end of a 911 call.

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What To Know About Working in a Dispatch Center
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What To Know About Working in a Dispatch Center

The dispatchers at Chagrin Valley Dispatch explain the ins and outs of working in an emergency dispatch center, as well as the hardest part about the jobs.

When an emergency arises, you know what to do: Call 911. But what exactly happens you punch in those numbers on your phone?

Oxygen's new series, "911 Crisis Center," premiering Saturday, November 6 at 9/8c on Oxygen, reveals exactly that. Viewers are brought inside Chagrin Valley Dispatch, an Ohio emergency dispatch center that services areas of Cleveland and other nearby cities. You get a front row seat as the dispatchers keep their cool throughout tense and stressful situations and provide emergency help, and you also get a peek into the dispatchers' friendships and lives outside of work.

So, how exactly does a dispatch center work?

"Welcome to Chagrin Valley Dispatch Center. This is the heartbeat of the cities that we dispatch for. All 17 police, fire, and EMS [emergency medical services]," Charline Polk, a 911 dispatch supervisor who has been in sector for 16 years, says in the video, above.

Polk and other dispatchers explain exactly how the center is run. Staffing is kept to a minimum of nine people at all time, and usually 11 or 12 workers assigned to each shift to account for sick leave or paid time off. Each dispatcher has a station with eight monitors, which seems like a lot — until you see how much information they have to keep track of during a single call.

When a call comes in, one of the monitors displays the phone number, a person's name if possible, and either the address if it's a landline or the closest cell tower if it's cell phone. That way dispatchers have an idea of where the emergency is happening on the map. Once they answer the call, the dispatchers get to work uncovering the information they need to know — what's happened, where the caller is, and what services they need.

As the dispatcher asks questions to get the necessary information, they also relay what they hear to a second dispatcher, who in turn tells either police, fire, EMS, or all three, what they should know when they respond to the scene. The dispatcher also records all the information into C.A.D. — the computer-aided dispatch — as everything is happening. You can see why an ability to multitask is crucial for this position! In fact, as Matt Reinke, a 911 dispatch trainee, says in the video, it might be the most difficult thing about the job.

"You have to be like an octopus," Polk confirms, meaning you need to be able to juggle multiple things at a time

For a deeper look at how an emergency dispatch center works, watch the video, above. And tune in for the premiere of "911 Crisis Center" on Saturday, November 6 at 9/8c on Oxygen.

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