Justice and Public Safety Cabinet
KSP Telecommunicators Earn Week of Praise
(FRANKFORT, Ky.)--- Kentucky State Police (KSP) Commissioner Mark Miller said National Public Safety Telecommunications Week, April 9-15, is an appropriate time to recognize the immense contributions of the KSP telecommunicators to the agency and to their communities.
“Each day our telecommunications staff, assigned across the state, field hundreds of calls ranging from requests for directions to calls for assistance in emergency situations,” said Miller. “Their role is essential to the operations of emergency personnel and to the public’s safety and well-being. Because the nature of their work is ‘behind the scenes,” I am pleased to take this opportunity to recognize publicly their commitment and their professionalism.”
Kentucky State Police Operations Division Director Lt. Col. Dean Hayes also expressed his appreciation for the dedication of the telecommunication staff, who regularly work under demanding circumstances.
“The role of telecommunications personnel has evolved in recent years resulting in KSP communications centers now providing a wide range of services that include law enforcement, fire and EMS related calls for service,” said Hayes. “Our telecommunicators have kept up with the demand and continue to perform their jobs admirably.”
There are 178 telecommunicators working at 16 KSP posts and the headquarters radio room using sophisticated equipment and computer software. But one thing is for certain, said Charlotte Tanner, a 28-year veteran of the KSP telecommunications staff: “The radios and computer consoles are only as good as the people behind them.”
“We have great equipment and software, especially since the recent transition to Computer-Aided Dispatch (CAD) systems,” said Tanner, who now provides instruction and re-certification training to KSP telecommunicators statewide. “There is no replacement, however, for the abilities of individual telecommunicators.”
Capt. John Thorpe, commander of Post 5 in Campbellsburg, said KSP telecommunicators are “professionals in every sense of the word.”
“Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, these men and women provide a ‘safety net’, not just to troopers, but to all Kentuckians,” he said. “Telecommunicators are the first and most important contact with the Kentucky State Police.”
In addition to multitasking, other skills critical to success in telecommunications are vigilance, the ability to work well under pressure, and the ability to compartmentalize thoughts and emotions.
“Situations can change without warning,” said Tanner. “A routine traffic stop can turn into ‘shots fired’ in an instant. If you lose your cool, you’ve lost your ability to help the officer, to make a difference. When troopers hears the telecommunicator’s calm voice, it reassures them that they are not alone.”
Tanner said that while the telecommunicator is trained to remain unemotional, it is often hard not to “take it home with you.” John Hunt agrees. He has worked for 22 years as a KSP telecommunicator, most of them at Post 9 in Pikeville, where he is now communications supervisor of a full-time staff of 18.
“We truly feel like one big family here in Pikeville, with more than 70 troopers assigned to this post.” said Hunt. “It’s not at all unusual for dispatchers to call back into post after they’ve gone off duty to see how things turned out in a particular situation, to make sure everyone was okay.”
Hunt said he has seen many changes in the radio room during his tenure.
“When I started here we were logging complaints on a typewriter and answering calls on a desktop phone,” he said. “Now we answer with computer monitors. The workload has also changed drastically. Besides handling KSP calls, we now answer 911 calls for Pike and Floyd counties. We also answer the radio for seven police departments, ten ambulance services, three rescue squads and 44 volunteer fire departments.”
Tanner said the 160 hours of initial training telecommunicators undergo includes such emergency information as the birth process, CPR, the Heimlich Maneuver, rendering aid for gunshot wounds and sustaining airways The relay of information by the telecommunicator can mean the difference between life and death.
Tanner said the relationship between telecommunicator and trooper is also a critical one.
“Our troopers are usually in rural areas and alone, so when they confront a situation, the telecommunicator is their tie to the agency and can become their lifeline,” she said. “The telecommunicator keeps track of where that trooper is and how long he or she has been there. The CAD even reminds the person in the radio room to check in with troopers every few minutes. This is particularly helpful during high-volume time periods.”
One trooper who understands well the unique relationship with the telecommunicator is Trooper Dean Patterson, assigned to Post 1 in Mayfield. He began his career with KSP as a dispatcher in 2001 and transitioned to a KSP cadet in 2004.
“Now that I’m a roadie, I appreciate both sides since I spent nearly four years as a KSP dispatcher,” said Patterson. “When I was a dispatcher I used to get irritated by the impatience of the roadies, but now I get it. When I’m on the side of the road, I depend on the people in the radio room to get my information fast. But I also understand what the dispatcher is going through, since I’ve been there.”
Tanner said that humor is also an important ingredient in the telecommunicator-trooper relationship.
“It’s all a part of self-preservation,” she said of the ability to find humor in sometimes difficult situations. “Let’s face it, we deal with bad people doing bad things. You can’t be exposed to that much negativity without detachment and some levity.”
“Once I got a call from a guy who was frantic because his pet chimpanzee had escaped in the Owensboro area,” she said, laughing at the memory. “I had to send out units to look for this chimp in diapers. That incident led to months of jokes.”
Tanner tells another story that, while humorous, also reveals the compassionate side of the state trooper.
“An elderly woman called in and was convinced that little people were entering her house through a crack in the furnace,” Tanner related. “The trooper arrived and went to the basement to check it out. He found a piece of tinfoil and carefully wrapped the ductwork, blocking the crack. She seemed perfectly satisfied with the repair.”
Tanner added that amid the chaos of the radio room, it is stories like these that make her, and other KSP telecommunicators, passionate about what they do.
“Kentucky State Troopers are my colleagues and my friends, and I don’t want anything bad happening to them,” she said. “But by golly, when something does happen, I want to be the one in there helping.”