The call volume for dispatchers with the Baldwin County Emergency 911 Center hasn’t increased dramatically as it has in other cities amid the novel coronavirus COVID-19 global pandemic, but that doesn’t mean they aren't prepared for anything that might come their way.
“I think a lot of people around here are thinking, it’s blowing up or that it’s crazy busy, and really it’s not,” according to Mandy Ptak, who oversees day-to-day operations as director of the Baldwin County Emergency 911 Center. “We really haven’t had a spike, especially when it comes to law enforcement calls.”
Ptak made her comments on Friday during National Telecommunications Week where dispatchers are recognized for what they do to help in times of need.
Even though law enforcement calls haven’t increased during the pandemic, such isn’t the case for the ambulance service that responds to calls in Milledgeville and Baldwin County.
“We do a pre-alert dispatch,” Ptak said. “We take the call and we dispatch the ambulance and get them on the way using their radio frequency, and then we’ll transfer the call to their EMS dispatchers for them to actually provide emergency directives, and things like that.”
She indicated the volume of calls for EMS has increased.
“There haven’t been a tremendous amount of calls to EMS, but the call volume has definitely increased,” Ptak said. “It has not been to the point where they are overwhelmed.”
Looking at what might be ahead of local E-911 dispatchers, and the fact that Georgia hasn’t yet hit its peak in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases, Ptak said regardless of what happens, she and her staff are prepared.
The peak time is now predicted to be May 1 in Georgia, according to health experts working closely with Gov. Brian Kemp’s office.
“Really, it’s hard to prepare for it,” Ptak said.
But when it comes to keeping as safe as possible, dispatchers are doing everything they can do, according to Ptak.
“We sanitize everything every day at the work stations,” Ptak said. “When they come into work, they have to wipe everything down with Clorox wipes and disinfect their work stations. I have assigned dispatchers to one shift, so we’re not exploding between different shifts, because I sometimes have some that float between shift rotations, but I’m trying to cut that out as best I can.”
There are 10 full-time dispatchers and four part-time dispatchers.
The full-time E-911 dispatchers are Haley Meeks, Ryan Adams, Kenchelv’on Jackson, Jessica Shaw, Morgan McDade, Christina Harris, Denesha Sanford, Perry Keith and Madelyn Goodaker.
The part-time dispatchers are Megan Kennedy, Matthew Hendricks, Cassie Brooks and Candice Lango.
“These folks are definitely the backbone of the public safety community,” Ptak said. “I don’t think a lot of people really realize that when you call 911, these are the people you are talking to, initially, to help you.”
Ptak explained that the dispatcher on the other end of the phone is the person ultimately who hears residents’ pleas for help.
“And our dispatchers are more than glad to help you in whatever situation you may be experiencing,” said Ptak, who has served as director of the Baldwin County Emergency 911 Center for the past 11 years.
She admitted that working during the midst of the pandemic is difficult.
“It’s not a job like some people have where they can shelter-in-place and work from home,” Ptak said. “It’s a job that requires them to be here.”
She said the overall uncertainty, as well as seeing the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases continuing increasing in Milledgeville and Baldwin County, affects dispatchers just as it does others on the front lines.
“It’s not that they are more worried than anybody else,” Ptak said. “We’re all just like a lot of other people who work and have families, too, and simply aren’t sure about what is going to happen. I know that weighs on them some, too.”
They all know they have a job to do and service to provide and that’s exactly what they do, according to Ptak.
“They are an amazing, talented and professional group of dispatchers,” Ptak said. “It takes a special person to be a 911 dispatcher in the first place. It is in no way a reception, clerical — nothing like that. I mean they go from answering a basic call to someone screaming and crying because their loved one is dying — just that quick, within a matter of seconds.”
And then there are the emergency calls involving a wreck or where someone calls in a fire and someone is trapped inside, she added.
“They have to deal with a lot of raw emotions, and they do a fantastic job of sorting through those raw emotions and trying to calm that chaotic caller to get whatever information they need to push to the first responders, all while trying to navigate all forms of technology in front of them to do and provide the services as quickly and adequately as they can,” Ptak said.
She said dispatchers are confronted with a lot of moving parts on their jobs.
“Every one of my people that I have working is fantastic at doing whatever comes their way.”