National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week, April 11-17, 2021

Dispatcher Cynthia Guzman shows and talks about her work at the El Centro Police Department. 

EL CENTRO — El Centro City Council members presented a plaque of recognition to the El Centro Police Department’s dispatchers during its regular meeting April 6, for their contribution to the community’s safety and in acknowledgment of the National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week, April 11-17. 

“The recognition is a reminder that we value them as employees and for the great service that they do for the community,” said El Centro Police Chief Brian Johnson as he addressed the Council. 

Dispatch Supervisor Heather Johnson spoke prior to accepting the plaque. “They are phenomenal people. I’m very proud of them.” Public safety telecommunicators are also popularly known as dispatchers. A photo opportunity with council members followed. 

According to Heather Johnson, “(Public safety dispatchers) are the unsung heroes, the voice on the phone that gives comfort to callers during times of tragedy. Dispatchers bring help to the fearful, aid to the sick, and calm to the chaos.” 

Dispatchers receive emergency calls that often hinge between life-or-death situations on a regular basis. Most people call when they are victimized by a serious crime. These callers are upset and hysterical. The dispatcher must keep calm to get information and to determine the kind of assistance needed to help and alleviate the situation, Heather Johnson explained. 

“Our dispatchers have a calming voice,” said Heather Johnson, to soothe the callers, allowing them to focus and think clearly amid the chaos and to describe the emergency situation to the dispatcher. 

Callers are men, women, teenagers, and children. In Imperial Valley, where a majority of residents are of Hispanic descent, dispatchers are capable of receiving and responding to calls in both the English and Spanish languages. 

According to Heather Johnson, although a majority of calls are tragic and traumatic, there are calls that are on the pleasant and happier side — childbirth or the location of a missing child. 

Inside the dispatcher’s office, two telecommunicators — Cynthia Guzman and Diana Martinez — were concentrated on two rows of three monitors at their workstations, totaling six monitors. Each one had the same computer setup. The array allowed them to use either workstation with ease. 

Each workstation had a pole with three lights in tandem at the tip, visible to all staff: blue, orange, and red. When the blue light is lit, it means the dispatcher is busy and does not want to be disturbed. An orange light indicates that the dispatcher is using a telephone. The red light means the dispatcher is using the radio.

“I receive about 100 calls on average per shift, both for police and fire emergencies,” said Guzman, a seasoned dispatcher with 13 years of experience. The calls are varied and may include child custody, stolen vehicles, theft, traffic collisions, medical emergencies, and missing persons. 

“The El Centro Police Department (ECPD) Communications Center answers both emergency and non-emergency calls for police and fire services,” said Heather Johnson. 

In addition to El Centro, the other cities and agencies with their own dispatchers are, Brawley, Calexico, Imperial County Sheriff’s Office, and the California Highway Patrol. All are members of the Public Safety Answering Point. 

Although each one functions independently, each has the capability to coordinate with and help each other, especially in big emergencies. 

“Dispatchers have a strong desire to be public servants; and I thank them,” said El Centro Police Chief Brian Johnson. 

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