Someone dials 911 in San Francisco, and their first contact in a crisis is a dispatcher with the city’s Department of Emergency Management.
While the roughly 160 dispatchers usually stay behind the scenes, they are being celebrated this week with a series of events as part of National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week.
Corinina “Cori” Cruz was singled out in particular for praise today after her colleagues selected her as San Francisco’s Dispatcher of the Year.
Cruz helped coordinate the response to a frightening pursuit through the city and across the Bay Bridge that ended in an hours-long standoff and the suicide of a Benicia man on Treasure Island last November.
Cruz was honored at City Hall this afternoon at the Board of Supervisors’ meeting.
Supervisor Jane Kim said Cruz and other dispatchers serve as “the voice on the other end of the line that provides help, health and reassurance for people in distress.”
Kim said the Nov. 27 incident “posed extreme risk” to first responders—the suspect fired a gun at officers at one point—but that Cruz “handled every aspect professionally” in coordinating the law enforcement response.
San Francisco police dispatcher Corinina “Cori” Cruz honored for work in cop chase [Ex]
Cruz, who has been a dispatcher with the city for eight years, said she was honored to receive the award but diverted praise to her colleagues.
“Every day your composure is tested, your resolve is shaken,” she said. “Frustration may set in, yet you never fail.”
Cruz said the incident for which she was honored was the most intense in recent memory, but that she tries to not let it or other serious cases affect her afterward.
“We learn to disassociate ourselves with whatever is going on out there … in order for us to go on with our personal lives,” she said.
The dispatchers appreciate the week of acknowledgement since they are often less lauded than their other public safety colleagues, said Teresa Castora, a watch coordinator at the department’s Communications Center at 1011 Turk St.
“It’s really a nice time to recognize the dispatchers,” Castora said. “You feel like it’s kind of a thankless job … you’re out there plugging along, and when you save a life, that’s what your job is, so you don’t always get a pat on the back.”
Castora said the dispatchers are expert multi-taskers, sometimes dealing with up to 50 or 60 officers or other emergency personnel on a single call.
The volume of calls handled by dispatchers has also increased over the past several years with the increased use of cellphones. The Communications Center handles about 4,000 calls per day, more than 1.1 million each year.
Dispatcher Janet Atchan was at the center this morning returning calls from people that dialed 911 and hung up. Many of the calls turn out to be accidental dials from cellphones but some can lead to a serious case.
“Every now and then you’ll call back and it’ll be a domestic violence call and they hung up,” Atchan said.
If a hang-up call comes from a residential landline and no one answers a dispatcher’s response call, authorities will be sent to the home as a precaution, she said.
The Department of Emergency Management building is also home to the Emergency Operations Center, which would be staffed by members of all city agencies in the event of a disaster, department spokesman Francis Zamora said.
The department’s building is surrounded by open space in the city’s Western Addition neighborhood to mitigate the threat of fire spreading from surrounding buildings, a lesson learned after the 1906 earthquake and fire, Zamora said.
The city this week will also recognize “9-1-1 for Kids Heroes,” children who helped in emergencies by calling 911, and the Toni Hardley Award for Excellence in Dispatch Supervision for supervisors at the department.
More information about the department can be found online at www.sfdem.wordpress.com.
Dan McMenamin, Bay City News