The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO


March 9, 2013

Calm voices: 911 dispatchers multitask myriad missions

JOPLIN, Mo. — It's called "the dungeon." But the dark, windowless room at the Joplin police station holds no prisoners. The darkness is punctuated by the blue-white hue of computer monitors -- three or four at each desk.

The affectionately named room is the home of 17 emergency dispatchers who strive to calm the chaos of daily disasters; who perform one of the more demanding jobs in the area.

Dispatchers based at the Joplin Emergency Communication Center, said Emergency Communications Manager Sunny Goodwin, serve as gateways to the other public safety personnel in Joplin: police officers, firefighters and EMS paramedics. They are the unseen but vital link in keeping police officers -- and the public -- safe at all times of the day and night.

"They are the ones who connect the dots," Goodwin said. "They are the ones taking that first call."

The dispatchers comprise a unique group of individuals who work odd hours, shoulder huge amounts of stress, can multitask and can simultaneously answer several phone calls -- all this while providing lifesaving medical care to the public until first responders can arrive.

"It's a very important job," Goodwin said. "I wouldn't actually call it a job. It's a career, and a very important one."

How important? A YouTube audio clip (with 70,000-plus views) covering the initial 35 minutes of the 2011 Joplin tornado features the voice of calm, collected Sherry Nauta as she updates and directs scattered Joplin fire and police units to where they were needed most.

The clip probably best sums up the importance of a dispatcher. It also show the elite multitasking skills a dispatcher must perform to be able to do the job correctly.

"You can go from high stress to not having anything happening for 45 minutes, and then it's 'boom' again," Goodwin said. "You just never know. It's just so unpredictable. We enjoy helping people, and we enjoy interacting with the public, but it's not a job for everyone."

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