Stress & Wellbeing in Emergency Dispatchers
Paul J. Bourgeois, Ph.D., CRC, NCC, and Emily Hotz, B.A.
Dec 22, 2021|AEDR 2021 Vol. 9 Issue 3|Original Research
Introduction: There are currently few stress management options provided to emergency dispatchers regarding the negative emotional, physical, and mental symptoms of stress that come with the job. Similarly, there is a lack of information about how these professionals experience this role and manage to cope with the challenges associated.
Objective: The objective of this study was to describe the sources of stress, coping mechanisms, stress responses, workplace environments, support services, and employer strategies to mitigate stress experienced by emergency dispatchers.
Methods: This was a descriptive, non-experimental study using an online survey tool (SurveyMonkey) to address the research questions that framed the study. The survey included open-ended items used for the collection data on the sources of stress, sources of support, and the lived experiences of 911 emergency dispatchers. The study utilized an inductive qualitative approach, consensual qualitative research, to analyze data within a multiple case study design. Data was collected in the Spring of 2020.
Results: The results of the cross analysis on research findings identified common domains across participants, including (a) types of stressful/traumatic calls, (b) responses to stressful/traumatic calls, and (c) workplace environment/support.
Conclusion: Implications address areas for ongoing discussion, including considerations and strategies to best promote mental health and wellbeing in the emergency dispatcher population. Our findings suggest further development, promotion, and utilization of employee assistance programs, peer to peer support networks, and critical incident stress management services may serve as a mechanism to enable emergency dispatchers and their organizations to better counteract job related stress and promote more positive mental health outcomes and workplace environments.
1. Willis, E., Beidel, D., Bowers, C., & Neer, S. Using a mobile application to address stress-related symptoms in emergency dispatchers. Annals of Emergency Dispatch & Response. 2020; 8(1), 9-15.
2. Meischke, H., Painter, I., Lilly, M., Beaton, R., Revere, D., … Baseman, J. An exploration of sources, symptoms and buffers of occupational stress in 9-1-1 emergency call centers. Annals of Emergency Dispatch & Response. 2015; 3(2), 28-35.
3. Trachik, B., Marks, M., Bowers, C., Scott, G., Olola, C., & Gardett, I. Is dispatching to a traffic accident as stressful as being in one? Acute stress disorder, secondary traumatic stress, and occupational burnout in 911 emergency dispatchers. Annals of Emergency Dispatch & Response. 2015; 3, 27-38.
4. Turner, K. D., Lilly, M. M., Gamez, A. M., & Kressler, K. Impact of Work-Related Factors on Stress and Health among 911 Calltakers and Dispatchers in California. Annals of Emergency Dispatch & Response. 2019; 7(1), 5-11.
5. Golding, S. E., Horsfield, C., Davies, A., Egan, B., Jones, M., Raleigh, M., Schofield, P., Squires, A., Start, K., Quinn, T., & Cropley, M. Exploring the psychological health of emergency dispatch centre operatives: A systematic review and narrative synthesis. PeerJ. 2017; 5.
6. Anderson, J. P., Papazoglou, K., Koskelainen, M., & Nyman, M. Knowledge and training regarding the link between trauma and health. SAGE Open. 2015; 5(2), 215824401558038.
7. Hill, C. E. (Ed.). Consensual qualitative research: A practical resource for investigating social science phenomena. Washington, DC, US: American Psychological Association. 2012.
8. Coxon, A., Cropley, M., Schofield, P., Start, K., Horsfield, C., & Quinn, T. ‘You're never making just one DECISION’: Exploring the lived experiences of ambulance Emergency operations CENTRE PERSONNEL. Emergency Medicine Journal. 2016; 33(9), 645–651.
9. Gurevich, M., Halpern, J., Brazeau, P., Defina, P. S., & Schwartz, B. Frontline stress behind the scenes: Emergency medical dispatchers. 2016. Retrieved from https://ovc.ojp.gov/sites/g/files/xyckuh226/files/media/document/wcul_front_stress_dispatch-508.pdf
10. Marks, M., Bowers, C., Trachik, B., James, N. T., & Beidel, D. Differences in PTSD symptomology between combat veterans and emergency dispatchers. Annals of Emergency Dispatch & Response. 2017; 5(2), 12-21.
11. Tracy, S. J., & Tracy, K. Emotion labor at 911: A case study and Theoretical critique. Journal of Applied Communication Research. 1998; 26(4), 390–411
12. Pew Trusts. (2021, October 26). New research suggests 911 call centers lack resources to handle behavioral health crises. https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/issue-briefs/2021/10/new-research-suggests-911-call-centers-lack-resources-to-handle-behavioral-health-crises
13. Shakespeare-Finch, J., Rees, A., & Armstrong, D. Social support, self-efficacy, trauma and well-being in emergency medical dispatchers. Social Indicators Research. (2015); 123(2), 549-565.