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Porter County E911 looking to help dispatchers manage stress

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Porter County, Indiana

The Porter County E911 center is looking into ways to help dispatchers manage the stress of their job. E911 Director Debby Gunn says dispatchers can be thought of as the project managers of public safety.

"Police officers know what they're responding to, and firefighters know what they're responding to. They have a brief overview of it. From a dispatcher's perspective, we never know. At any moment of every single day, our job is, 'What is coming next?'" Gunn told the county council Tuesday.

In addition to the stress of dealing with emergencies, dispatchers also have to keep up with constantly changing technology. For example, Porter County dispatchers' work involves 23 separate software applications.

"You can text 911. That's been around for a couple years now. The next generation from that is video, and it's coming. So that presents a whole other side of the job where you're always talking to people through the phone, and down the line, you're going to be seeing these things in real time," said E911 Deputy Director Paige Young.

Young has been studying the effects that stress has on dispatchers. She said she's been looking into setting up a peer support committee, but the most important thing is for dispatchers to be self-aware of how stress affects them.

"It's very easy to become very negative in this job and very cynical, and that spreads through your department rapidly. And it's getting people to see what the source of that is and turn that around. It's not easy," Young added.

All of that stress leads to a lot of turnover. Gunn said about 18 dispatchers have left since the start of 2021, but she's been able to hire four experienced dispatchers and move another two from part-time to full-time status. Still, eight full-time positions remain open.

Council members agreed to transfer 50-thousand dollars to cover the increasing cost of employee overtime, following the county commissioners' approval earlier this month.