911 Dispatchers: The voices in your darkest hour

Posted at 10:55 PM, Apr 24, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-25 07:03:15-04

NORFOLK, Va. -- 911 Dispatchers are the calm voice during your worst moments. They aren't on the scene, but their response is a critical part of the law enforcement team.

DispatchersFrom a dimly lit room, the voice heard on the other end of a 911 call is always calm and monotone, regardless of what the caller is experiencing.

"We get callers who are hysterical. Women who are screaming because their children aren't breathing," said Katherine Overkamp. She's one of many dispatchers at the Norfolk Department of Emergency Preparedness and Response. "It is a challenging job and that’s where the training comes in. Training never ends. It’s our community, being actively involved. Every time we pick up the phone, we don’t know what we’re going to get, what we’re going to fall back on the training so we give 100 percent."

Like any night, she didn't know what call she would answer on May 30, 2014. It's a night she won't forget.

“By far, the most emotional call was the night Officer Jones was killed, it was very chaotic. But to have a sergeant say over the air there was a code 100. It affects us at this end of the radio as well. But we couldn’t show that. We had to keep pushing forward because there was so much going on," said Overkamp.

Dispatchers push forward because they know on the scene, officers are depending on them.

“We rely so much on our dispatchers. They are truly the first first responders for us. When we get dispatched to calls for service, we know what we’re getting into because of what they’re relaying to us on the radio," said Daniel Hudson with the Norfolk Police Department.

In Norfolk, dispatchers take more than 600 calls a day. They work eight-hour shifts and every call has their undivided attention.

"In that couple of minutes when it’s just my voice on the air, my voice on the phone, we’re helping them to help themselves at that end," said Overkamp.

Dispatchers are far away from the action, but a crucial part of the team, which is why law enforcement officers believe dispatchers should get the same thanks they do.

"I’ve had citizens walk up to me and say “thank you for what you’re doing. And I would really love to see dispatchers get that. Thank them as well because they truly deserve more recognition than they get," said Officer JoAnn Hughes.

A thank you, because you never know when you might hear their voice on the other end.

Dispatchers stress, when calling 911 to be as descriptive as possible, including having an exact location, buildings nearby, the color of clothes and anything else in sight.