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Santa Barbara County Recognizes Emergency Dispatchers During Appreciation Week

National Public Safety Telecommunications Week recognizes the dispatchers who connect 9-1-1 callers to emergency responders

Santa Barbara County Public Safety Dispatch Supervisor Susan Farley is a 13-year veteran with the Sheriff’s Department. Click to view larger
Santa Barbara County Public Safety Dispatch Supervisor Susan Farley is a 13-year veteran with the Sheriff’s Department. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

Santa Barbara County Public Safety Dispatch Supervisor Susan Farley was on duty during the 2006 shooting that killed seven people at a ​U.S. Postal Service in Goleta.

“It was chaotic,” Farley said. “The calls started pouring in.”

She was also present when the phone lines rang during the 2014 Isla Vista massacre that left seven dead and injured 14 others near the UC Santa Barbara campus.

“I knew someone directly affected, and we have the same thoughts as the community, but our job is the be calm and move on to the next call,” Farley said.

Farley is one of 31 employees working at the county dispatch center, a 24-hours facility that handles fire, medical and law enforcement calls.

April is host to National Public Safety Telecommunications Week, also known as Dispatcher Appreciation Week, which honors the dispatch professionals who are dedicated to saving lives.

In the case of the Santa Barbara County Public Safety Dispatch center, these responders sit adjacent to the county Sheriff's Department building and behind a magnetic locking door.

They're a busy group: Santa Barbara County dispatched 156,814 law enforcement calls, 22,241 fire incidents and 56,088 American Medical Response medical incidents last year — an average of 645 calls per day, according to Kelly Hoover, a spokeswoman for the Sheriff's Department. 

Ten county dispatchers were also recognized with life-saving awards by the Santa Barbara County Emergency Medical Services Agency for cardiac arrest patient CPR saves.

“I am proud of our public safety dispatch professionals who fill a crucial role in keeping our community safe,” Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said in a statement. “They are highly trained, compassionate, dedicated and calm in the face of chaos. Dispatchers make a huge difference each and every day.”

The center's average call is about three to four minutes long, Farley said, but it’s a career where every second counts.

“Every day is different, which is one of the best things about the job,” Farley said. “In an emergency, those few seconds can make a huge difference in saving someone’s life.”

A caller could be someone reporting a stolen computer. After that, a dispatcher could be guiding the next caller with medical instructions for cardiac arrest.

Farley has been on the phone line when callers have taken their last breath.

“We take some stressful calls,” Farley said. “Some days are busy. Then, there are the slow days — we like those.” 

Dispatchers work continuously to assure citizens receive resources and help quickly.

“This job takes a calm personality,” Farley said. “A lot of people calling are in fear. They are panicked and want help.”

The dispatchers process non-emergency and emergency calls, helping paint a picture for the emergency personnel who rely on them for detailed and accurate information. 

“We are the conduit between the emergency responders and the caller on the line,” she said. “It’s our job to get the caller’s information to the emergency responders. Sometimes we are the initial eyes for the deputies and paramedics. We always tell the caller help is on the way and when it’s coming.”

Dispatchers complete rigorous testing and a background check process followed by more training and on-the-job instruction before working independently.  

Communications Manager Lisa Mathiasen had nothing but praise for the way Farley handles radio traffic and training procedures.

Farley completed her Emergency Number Professional Certification examination set by the National Emergency Number Association institute, Mathiasen said. 

“It’s a comprehensive test about the management of a dispatch center, technology and everything about 9-1-1 dispatch,” Mathiasen said. “She studied hard. We are proud of her and she is very dedicated.”

Farley is a 13-year veteran with the county Sheriff's Department. She began as an entry level dispatcher and worked her way up the ranks.

The UCSB graduate was always interested in law enforcement.

“I’m an investigation discovery junky, but I didn’t want to be an actual police officer,” she said. “It’s a great way to be involved without physically being out in the field. I applied, got the job and I love it.”

As a dispatch training supervisor, Farley also speaks with students about her duties and encourages citizens who seek a step towards law enforcement to try a career in dispatch.

Farley has friends outside of the law enforcement and emergency medical service world, as well as her husband who is a sheriff’s deputy, to counterbalance the work day stress.

“Everyone deals with stress in different ways,” Farley said. “A lot of people have outside hobbies to let that stress go. You have to find something that grounds you.”

The Sheriff’s Office is seeking candidates interested in working as a dispatcher, with more information available on the website here. 

“It’s a great job,” Farley said.

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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