Why did you join the control room?
I have to be honest, I left Uni at 21 with a law degree, some debt and no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I found a temporary job with the Police and thought that would tide me over until I decided which direction I was taking. Six months later I still wasn’t sure of the direction and a job came up in the control room, so I thought that would buy me some time.
18 years and several different posts within control rooms later, I realise that somewhere along the line I made a conscious decision to stay. I was a supervisor in the control room for over ten years and have recently taken on a management support function so I can try and make a difference to the processes, the working relationships with partner agencies and make the lives of the staff in the control rooms a little easier in the long run by improving these things. I made that conscious decision because I realised how important that department is, and how you can actually make a difference to the lives of people – both the public, and (as a supervisor) the staff who do a really challenging and stressful job every day that genuinely impacts the lives of others.
Tell us what is like working in an emergency control room?
It’s that job that most people who don’t work in say “oh I don’t know how you do that”. The pace is fast and out of your control, you are at the mercy of the public and what they ring in, and how calls for help develop. I love that, the ever changing pace and trying to achieve the impossible at times. As a supervisor I was the one people turned to when they’d run out of resources and needed someone to go to an emergency. It took all manner of problem solving at times to achieve that. And negotiation skills. Most shifts these days find you not having chance to have any kind of non work based conversation with your colleagues, ten hours go by in the blink of an eye and a flurry of emergencies and apparently impossible resourcing issues that somehow, we always pull together and overcome.
Ten hours go by in the blink of an eye and a flurry of emergencies and the impossible resourcing issues that somehow, we always pull together and overcome.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
As a supervisor within the control room there was so much that was rewarding. I loved supporting the staff – they are amazing! I liked trying to keep the atmosphere within the control room as relaxed as possible, even on the crazy busy nights. I liked to remind my staff what a great job they do and thank them, I hope that they felt I was appreciative of their hard work. It is easy for them to forget that what they do is so very important and significant. Their decisions and actions have a genuine impact upon people’s lives. They can make a difference. I loved the days we’d come across what appears a fairly non urgent, straightforward call, but something just niggles about it, you feel there’s more to it and more risk than it suggests and you prioritise it, get someone to it and find that your instincts were correct. And by getting someone there more quickly you’ve actually made a difference. The public don’t realise the impact the control rooms have and the part they play, it’s a quiet sort of unsung rewarding a lot of the time. We just turn to each other and say “we did the right thing, We were right there, thank goodness we did that”. We all remember those jobs.
What makes your job challenging and how do you overcome this?
The most significant challenge as a supervisor comes when you know your resources are all tied up, at things they can’t come away from, that your dispatchers are shouting at you that they have an emergency free and no one to go, and they’re looking at you to somehow find someone. There’s absolutely nothing we all hate more than an emergency sitting there and you having no idea how to resource it. That’s when the teamwork really kicks in. But it has to be quick as time is of the essence. Negotiating with officers and sergeants to move resources, dispatchers all across the District trying to free up Officers to attend, the Officers on the ground get the sense on those super busy crazy shifts that it’s a difficult one and they all club together to try and serve the public. It’s about getting everyone on board, and working together, it’s the only way to achieve the best results. And at the same time you’re keeping an eye on your staff, stress levels on those nights are always high anyway, it’s about making sure you support the staff too, get them support, support them yourself, get them a drink if they can’t get up from the desk and you can. Make sure they take their breaks. You need them to work effectively and don’t want them going home stressed out.
What does International Control Room Week mean to you and the team?
In my new role as Communications Management Support, I hope the staff realise we’ve registered to take part in it because we appreciate their hard work, the work that so often doesn’t get any glory or recognition, a job where it is hard to quantify the impact they have and difference they make to people and policing. This is an opportunity to say thank you for the stress they deal with and carry on a daily basis. And as we celebrate their work during this event the work will continue to come in, they’ll continue to work hard, but I hope they will know that it’s appreciated. Our staff have faced a review of the whole call centre and dispatch centres which has affected hundreds of staff for a very long time. It is drawing to a close now and this comes at a time as the Force’s new vision for those functions is coming to fruition and everyone starts in their new place of work with new colleagues, trying to achieve that vision. It couldn’t come at a better time after so much uncertainty and change to say thank you for the work they do.