HPD looking for dispatchers to get help where help is needed

single-meta-cal June 25, 2024

Help begins here in this sprawling spacecraft-like room with oversized computer monitors displaying maps and a blur of other information. It’s how help gets where help is needed.

Call an emergency number in Huntsville, the phone rings here in the Madison County Communications District. A professional dispatcher answers, immediately assessing the situation and setting the appropriate response in motion.

Huntsville Police’s Communication Division needs more professionals to answer the call and send help. They are now hiring dispatchers and looking for the best candidates to respond to a caller who may well be facing the worst day of their life.

You will work in a state-of-the-art facility with every available tool at your fingertips. You will receive comprehensive training to learn how best to utilize those tools. It’s challenging, satisfying and, sometimes, heartbreaking.

“It’s difficult,” HPD Dispatch Coordinator Amy Turner said. said Amy Turner, the communications training officer for HPD. “I’m not going to sugarcoat it. It’s difficult. You have to be able to manage stress, you have to be able to multitask. We may be answering the phone and have a radio (talking to a police officer) and talking to another dispatcher all at the same time.”

Hands-on training

As a potential applicant, though, focus not on the details of the job but the training. That happens in a room across the hall from the communication center. You get hands-on practice on computers and monitors that mimic what dispatchers use. While the job is difficult, the training prepares you to step into that science fiction-looking room, don a headset and do the job efficiently.

“Our training is in depth,” Turner said. “We give the trainees an ample amount of time to be able to learn the process. You’re always learning in this job anyway. You learn something new every day.

classroom with large screen on front wall with chairs at tables with computers

The training room at the Madison County Communications District in Huntsville gives trainees a real-world setting to learn the job.

Training lasts six months and senior dispatchers with more experience are always nearby. You’re never alone.

“The trainer is right there beside you the whole time,” Turner said. “We do eventually start stepping back so they become more independent. But we’re still there and we’re listening, so it’s not like you’re on a radio by yourself or you’re not on a phone call by yourself.”

Technology and amenities

If you like technology, you’ll love life as a dispatcher. On one monitor, you’ll have a map showing where the emergency call originated. On another, you’ll have a view of available officers and their locations to help determine the best officer to respond.

And a new feature at the communication center allows dispatchers, with the permission of the phone owner, to access live video through the cellular phone of a caller that may provide pertinent information to a responding officer or inform a dispatcher’s decision making.

large kitchen with tables in the center and a row of refrigerators on the right

A full-size kitchen is part of the amenities available to dispatchers at the Madison County Communications District.

Beyond the work area, the facility caters to everything a dispatcher could want or need while on the job. There is a full kitchen, a small gym, a break area and what Turner calls a “quiet room” – a place to decompress from a difficult call. Mental health resources are available to City employees as part of their benefits package.

Bunk rooms for men and women are available for emergency or unusual situations – a feature that came in handy during January’s ice storm. Even an outdoor walking track is available when the need arises.

“With the kitchen, dispatchers can fix their meals and don’t have to go off site and they’ve got a nice place to relax,” said HPD Sgt. Dana Springfield. “You can go outside and walk in the sunshine, or you can get on the treadmill and decompress that way.”

The training and the tools are all right here to direct the help and, most importantly, make a difference.

“There’s a lot going on behind the scenes,” Turner said. “The officers on the street are, obviously, very important. But our job is just as important as theirs. We’re just behind the scenes.”