April is 9-1-1 Education Month and April 14-20 is National Public Safety Telecommunications Week. During this time, Audrain County 9-1-1 dispatchers will join more than 200,000 fellow telecommunicators nationwide being recognized for their long hours and dedication to public safety.
On April 19, Audrain County 9-1-1 will honor its "heroes behind the headsets" with an appreciation dinner, beginning at 6 p.m. at the Joint Communication Center in Mexico. 9-1-1 Director Christine L. Hardin has arranged to have a special guest – a six-year-old little girl who dialed 9-1-1 back in November to save her mother's life. The little girl will have the opportunity to meet for the first time with the dispatcher that took the call.
Hardin said the dispatcher told her shortly after that incident, "that call reminded her of why she is a dispatcher and why she enjoys her job."
Audrain County 9-1-1 has 15 telecommunicators on staff, who handle calls for the cities of Vandalia, Farber, Laddonia, Martinsburg, Mexico and Audrain County. Last year, they took over 100,000 calls (50,000 being calls for service).
Using words like "amazing" and "loyal," Hardin said what impresses her the most about her team is their "dedication."
"Their levels of dedication and professionalism continue to amaze me every day, and I am very proud of their work," Hardin said.
Audrain County 9-1-1 dispatchers work on rotating schedules (consisting of 12-, 8- and 4-hour shifts), plus overtime. The have two weekends off each month.
Additionally, dispatchers go through 40 hours of telecommunication training, 12-16 weeks of in-house training, 40 hours of MULES (Missouri Uniform Law Enforcement System) training, 24 hours of Emergency Medical Dispatch (EMD) training and 16 hours of continuing education per year.
Hardin said many people don't think about these seemingly nameless, faceless individuals until they experience actual emergencies themselves. "Our dispatchers are professionals," she said, "who can make the difference between life and death in many incidences." The breakdown of calls coming into Audrain County 9-1-1, Hardin said, is about 90 percent law enforcement, 6 percent EMS and four percent fires.
"Their job is very important," Hardin reiterated.
Audrain County 9-1-1 also strives to keep its public educated, Hardin said the 1-1-2 urban myth story currently circulating on Facebook and e-mail is one of her "biggest beefs."
"The social media postings are telling people to dial 1-1-2 to be directed to the Highway Patrol, which isn't true," Hardin explained. "1-1-2 is the European equivalent of 9-1-1 and some carriers here in the U.S. have made it interchangeable so that foreign tourists dialing 1-1-2 in a panic while here will still receive assistance. But not all carriers have made the number interchangeable, so dialing 9-1-1 is still the most reliable way to get emergency help when needed."
Page 2 of 2 - Hardin's tip for 9-1-1 Education Week is to parents, teachers and childcare providers:
"When talking to your young children about what they should do in an emergency, always say 9-1-1. Oftentimes, we hear people say 9-11 — which tends to be associated with the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York (on 9/11/2001) and can be very confusing to young children, who might panic because they can't find the number 11 on the telephone keypad."
Hardin invites the community to join Audrain County 9-1-1 on April 19 in its celebration and observation of Education Month and National Public Safety Telecommunications Week.
"I am proud of what my people do, and we just want everyone to know that, and appreciate what they do," Hardin said.