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COOK COUNTY CONNECTIONS: A Day in the Life of a Dispatcher

Feb 25, 2022 09:39AM ● By Editor

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By Lindsay Mielke, Lead Dispatcher from Cook County MN Law Enforcement - February 25, 2022


“Cook County 911, what is the address of your Emergency?” Hey folks, Lindsay Mielke here, and I am the Lead Dispatcher and Public Safety System Specialist for the Cook County Sheriff Office. I want to share a little about the profession of a 911 Dispatcher and if you want to make a career change and believe this might be your calling, let me know; we are hiring!

 First, we are Public Safety Telecommunicators, but typically the public knows us as 911 dispatchers. But, after the title, our job stands as a mystery to most.  Throughout the years, the stigma has been that we’re ok with being in the shadows and not recognized for the critical role that we play, and that was ok; we’re a humble group.  Unfortunately, this has done an injustice to our profession, and the Public Safety Answering Points (PSAP) throughout the country are now having a hard time finding the right people that fit in this line of work.  This profession isn’t for everyone. It does take a hardy soul to work nights, weekends, holidays and handle the type of calls that come in, and you may ask, is it worth it?  The answer is, ABSOLUTELY! 

There are a lot of acronyms in our job, and when I talk about PSAP, it stands for Public Safety Answering Point. You may have heard it called a dispatch center.  Either way, a PSAP is responsible for receiving and processing 911 calls. Every County has a PSAP, and in some areas, they branch out to Secondary or Tribal jurisdictions. So, if you are traveling down the interstate, it’s possible that the Minnesota State Patrol PSAP will answer your 911 call. A 911 Dispatcher is the first person to respond to your call and will start a chain reaction involving other public safety responders to deliver assistance to you. 

At the PSAP, you have your 911 dispatchers, and depending on where you are from, they may call them something different, but essentially, we are all Public Safety Telecommunicators (PST). What does that entail, and what exactly do we do, you ask?   Our most critical role is serving as the first initial responder, we coordinate vital communication between the public needing life-saving aid and emergency services from our partners in Law Enforcement, Fire, and Emergency Medical Services (EMS).  We direct our callers with critical lifesaving, pre-arrival instructions, that help support our field responders, who we are also communicating with over a complex radio system, all the while operating multiple computer programs. Navigating between Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) and Geographical Information Systems (GIS) software, just to name a few, a 911 Dispatcher must do all of this and continue standard operations for non-emergency situations. Multi-tasking and delivering services at a high level is the foundation of a 911 Dispatcher.  

Hopefully I haven’t made your head spin because in our PSAP we are doing all the above, while also checking on inmates, answering non-emergency calls from the public, either in-person or over the phone, and you’d never be the wiser, because a cornerstone of a 911 Dispatcher is to do this while also being the calm within the storm.  

Your local Public Safety Telecommunicators have given CPR instruction over the phones, virtually held a caller’s hand as they were alone, scared, and waiting for medical to arrive, kept a domestic abuse victim safe, delivered a baby over the phone, and encouraged mental health callers by believing in them and staying on the line with them until help arrives. We’ve comforted mothers and fathers after a child recovers from a choking incident as well as comforted callers when they find a loved one who has been found lifeless. We keep our deputies safe during traffic stops and domestic abuse calls. This is just a tiny portion of what we do here in our PSAP! 

In bigger Public Safety Answering Points, they can divide up the duties, but here, we do them all. That doesn’t mean crime doesn’t happen up here, it just means it happens in smaller doses.  In a high stress environment, clear and effective communication is key when coordinating single and multiple incidents with numerous agencies or jurisdictions. The 911 Dispatcher assists during high or low risk incidents, and we do all of this while maintaining situational awareness that maximizes the life, safety and law and order within our community. 

We are dedicated to making sure the public gets the help they need while getting all responders home safely to their families. We are the thin gold line that holds it all together.  If that starts to disappear, who will answer your call? Who will be there on the opposite end of the radio when another Public Safety partner is calling out a mayday? The importance of our profession has been silent for too long. Time for us to step out from the shadows and ask for support, as well as qualified applicants to join our team.


County Connections is a column on timely topics and service information from your Cook County government. Cook County – Supporting Community Through Quality Public Service.

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