This is National Public Safety Telecommunications Week. While it's a mouthful to say, the primary focus of a nation's thanks this week is the rarely seen but always vital telecommunicators.
It's only right that we should take time out this week as a nation to honor and remember the folks who are there at the end of the telephone line when we call 911. The calm voice at the end of the line belies the decisions that are being made that can result in lives and property saved.
In today's unsettled times, with the possibility of another terrorist attack looming large in our minds, we need to say thanks to the people who make sure we get the help we need at home, at work, or on the highway. Those folks are the ones who stare at computer screens filled with numbers and data for twelve hours at a time, and know instantly how to translate our emergency needs into instructions that get help on it way ASAP.
Unlike police officers who investigate a crime or arrest a criminal, or firemen who finally see a blaze extinguished, or rescue workers who eventually hear that their charges are going to be fine, telecommunicators see an event from its beginning, but never see the end.
They are the ones who let police officers know if a suspicious vehicle may be driven by a criminal. They are the ones who warn firefighters about toxic chemicals in burning buildings, or that people might be trapped inside. They are the ones who evaluate a sick or injured person's symptoms over the telephone, and give rescue workers an idea how to be prepared to save a life.
Many times they have to deal with vague directions under the most urgent of situations. They have to almost instinctively know at any time what resources best suited for the problem, what is available, where those resources are, and how quickly the required personnel and equipment can get there. Not everybody can do that.
Many times in the 911 office are quiet, but there are times when each of the officers has to have "octopus arms," as the saying goes-dealing with several calls and crises at the same time. Yet their voices rarely show the stress they feel.
Sometimes they get cursed. Sometimes they get called for problems that in no way resemble emergencies. Sometimes they get asked questions that no one can answer.
Theirs are the voices of reassurance to hurt people, frightened children, or those who have been victimized by criminals.
They have to be able to be polite, reassuring, and professional all at the same time-and get a caller the help they need as soon as possible.
We don't see them carrying stretchers. We don't see them wearing turnout gear and manhandling firehoses. We don't see them in the glare of a flashing blue light atop a patrol car.
But the 911 operators are just as vital as any of those brave professionals and volunteers. Tell them thanks, and rest assured that if you ever need help, the first people you call will be ready and willing to do their part.