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'Mission focused' | Dispatchers see uptick in COVID-19 related calls

It is National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week, and dispatchers across the country continue to work to keep people safe.

GRAND RAPIDS, Michigan — Life has changed for nearly everyone since the coronavirus pandemic arrived in Michigan. Ever since, dispatchers have had to put their own worries aside to continue keeping the public safe, and they're doing it in new ways.

"The calls that we’re seeing right now are slightly different in certain categories," said Kent County Emergency Communications Center Manager Matt Groesser.

"Immediately when the Governor issued the ‘Stay at Home’ order, there were a lot of questions about ‘how does this pertain to me? How do we define the term essential?’ Those types of things."

The center still receives emergency calls, but those too have a different feel.

"Overall, I would say that our call volume, if anything, has maybe gone down just slightly," Groesser said.

"Some of our medical responses are a little bit higher than normal. Not dramatically. Traffic related incidents are way down, as an example, but then some of the domestic disturbance calls, those are up a little bit from what we normally see."

Dispatchers are also screening callers to let first responders know about any possible COVID-19 situation they may encounter.

"When we started this process it was really mostly the medical calls that we were concerned about and we were screening all the medical calls," Groesser said. 

"Now, if really any type of emergency responder is going to have contact with someone in the field, we are asking the questions to try to understand is this something that might be virus related? Do our responders need any type of information to protect them?"

In a time when many professions have switched to working from home, Kent County dispatchers are still reporting to their physical building.

"A lot of information is shared just by leaning back in your chair and yelling across the room when there’s a hot call that we’re trying to handle. There’s no real good way to replace a lot of that inter-room kind of communication," Groesser said. 

"But I think we’re getting close to seeing other new ways of factioning off some of the work product and handle maybe the output dispatch remotely, as an example."

Groesser says people are free to call the center's non-emergency number, 616-632-6100, for COVID-19 related questions, but he encourages them to try to educate themselves on the matter to the greatest extent possible before calling.

"Maybe online look up the Governor’s order that maybe they’re asking a question about so that they’ve got at least a starting point on some of those things before they call us, but again, in a non-emergency sense we’re still here to handle those calls."

During this National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week, Groesser is thanking his team for continuing to provide the important service they do.

"They’re just exemplary in the work that they’re doing right now. We couldn’t be happier with them," he said.

"Our staff are mission focused. They understand the role that they provide in this community is an important one and we’re still here doing the work."

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