Lives of Others

[Originally published in the March/April 2024 PSC magazine.]

Bringing family or friends to the workplace can open their eyes to the pressures experienced by public safety telecommunications.

By Sherianne Hermes

Upon returning home from my shift, my husband asks about my day and why I needed to work last-minute overtime today to cover a sick call. I had just worked overtime the day prior. My kids asked about the calls I handled and if anyone was injured today. My mother calls and asks why I cannot attend the birthday party she planned for my brother after I already explained I am scheduled for a 12-hour overtime shift that day.

As public safety telecommunicators it is difficult to explain to our loved ones what we do throughout the course of our day and, sometimes, we just don’t want to talk about it. We may be unable to articulate the physical and mental demands of this unique career and how these demands affect us and our loved ones on a daily, weekly and monthly basis.

Our emergency communications center (ECC) management team recognized the importance of helping telecommunicators connect the dots between work and personal life, and launched our “Bring Someone to Work Day” program. The goal was to alleviate some of the work-personal life disconnect and related stressors experienced by our telecommunicators.

Bring Someone to Work Day is modeled after the annual Bring Your Child to Work Day. Unlike the latter, this year-round program provides our telecommunicators the convenience of choosing the day they want their loved one to “sit-in” alongside the telecommunicator during their workday. Telecommunicators may request more than one day to accommodate multiple sit-ins throughout the year. In other words, they may invite as many loved ones as they wish to participate in a sit-in with some basic caveats: the sit-in date as well as the attendee must be pre-approved by management, one attendee is allowed per four- to eight-hour shift and small children are not allowed. Attendees are provided a headset and plug in with the telecommunicator at their console for the duration of their sit-in. At the start of the shift, the telecommunicator reviews confidentiality expectations including what the attendee may hear or see during the sit-in, the technologies, conversation in the room and more. Attendees are allowed to take photos discretionarily, without compromising confidential information.

The program has enhanced communication, understanding and continuity for our telecommunicators and their loved ones. Throughout 2023, we welcomed 15 of our telecommunicators’ spouses, significant others, adult children, brothers, sisters and other family members to our ECC. This has been a huge success for all involved, and we look forward to continuing the program during 2024. Consider some of the feedback from those who participated:

Terri, 9-1-1 telecommunicator/fire dispatcher: “I love the sit-[in] with family. So far, two of my family members have come in with me. First was my 26-yearold daughter, and the first thing she said to me afterwards was that she thought she would be bored. Her concept was that we just answered a bunch of phones. She had no idea how involved we became with the callers and what we do when we have active calls for the fire departments. It was a real eye opener for her. She also enjoyed the camaraderie that we have with our team. My husband was my other sit-[in]. He’s a retired cop so knows the business — at least he thought so. Afterwards, he commented on how many things we do at a time while handling phone calls and dispatching calls. He told me that he was impressed with how effectively we handled callers, having to put them on hold to handle another call then remembering where we were with the first caller, especially
while managing many other tasks.”

Alex, 9-1-1 telecommunicator/police dispatcher: “[My brother] stated that he can see how certain calls can carry with you when you leave work. I told him how important it is to have ways to decompress after work as any day can be very stressful. Whether it’s a hobby, working out or spending time with family, it’s beneficial to make time for yourself. He also said he has a better understanding of what we do to ensure officer safety. Our dad was on Carol Stream PD for 25-years, so it was great for my brother to see some of what is done behind the scenes that helped our dad come home safely every day. My brother and I are very close, and I often text him to give my nieces a hug for me when I have
a tough call involving kids.”

Erin, 9-1-1 telecommunicator/fire dispatcher: “My brother came in to sit with me. He enjoyed it and was surprised/overwhelmed by all the things we do. It was beneficial for me to have someone in my circle who really sees what I do. It was also beneficial for him because he is currently looking for a police job in the area and he got to see what goes on behind the scenes. Lindsay, [a fellow telecommunicator/police dispatcher] was actually nice enough to invite him to spend a part of the session with her on the police desk. Overall it was so awesome. We both enjoyed it, and he wants to come in for another one sometime!”

Sherianne Hermes has over 20 years of experience in 9-1-1 emergency communications and holds a masters of mass communication from South Dakota State University. She is the Professional Standards Coordinator at the Addison (Illinois) Consolidated Dispatch Center (ACDC), handling community outreach, website/social media, agency training and accreditation. She is a certified APCO Agency Instructor, CTO, PST, FSC Instructor, a former member of the APCO Agency Training Program Committee and a current member of the APCO Editorial Committee.

Keeping Kids in the Loop Safely

By Jessica “Jae” Lohr

It’s a fact of life that children hear nearly everything, especially what we don’t want them to hear. How do we talk to the kids in our lives about the emergencies and traumas we deal with every day as public safety telecommunicators?

  • Be first. Kids know things before we think they know them. Start the conversation with them first to reduce the stress and anxiety they’re dealing with.
  • Be honest. While honesty is the best policy, white lies or omitted truths are frequent hallmarks of these types of conversations. Know what you’re going to say before you say it, as hesitation can be a sign you’re figuring it out as you go.
  • Be curious. Ask open-ended questions to find out what they already know about the situation. Correct misinformation without condescension.
  • Be open. Kids go to adults they trust with questions. Make sure you create a conversational space that encourages curiosity and support.
  • Be selective. Limit media exposure. Social media can have more breaking information than news outlets, so be careful about what content you and the children in your life consume.
  • Be routine. If possible, stick to the emotional safety and comfort of established routines. There’s a security blanket built into habits that kids can lean on (and maybe yourself, too).
  • Be normal. Every day, someone’s world is never going to be the same again. Kids need to understand that there is no guilt in finding joy even when bad things are happening outside the home. Never hesitate to ask for help either. If you find yourself struggling with talking about traumatic events with children, there are resources available. Some of those resources include:
    • National Child Traumatic Stress Network (
    • National Association of School Psychologists (
    • National Center for Children Exposed to Violence ( children_terrorism.htm)

Jessica “Jae” Lohr is Performance Improvement and Accreditation Supervisor for Charlottesville-UVA-Albemarle County Emergency Communications Center in Charlottesville, Virginia.