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A woman wearing a headset sits at a desk in a large room with television screens in the background. A man is sits at a desk behind her.

Dispatchers help police by asking COVID-19 questions

Telecommunications operators have been working around the clock throughout the pandemic providing essential information to first responders. Credit: RCMP


Behind every RCMP officer responding to calls for service is a telecommunications operator at an Operational Communications Centre asking questions and collecting information to help keep first responders and the public safe.

Throughout the pandemic, Operational Communications Centres (OCCs), who receive and dispatch calls for service, have been asking questions about COVID-19 to help police officers prepare to respond.

Operators ask a series of simple questions to determine if someone at the scene or involved in the incident has travelled in the past two weeks, exhibited COVID-19 symptoms or tested positive for the illness.

The information helps officers responding to the call prepare for the scene and take precautions when they arrive.

"We're the first point of contact for the public and the members rely on us for their safety," says Darryl Macdonald, OCC commander in Prince Edward Island.

While the COVID-19 questions are an extra step, they're aligned with the work telecommunications operators do every day supporting front-line police officers.

Telecommunications operators typically ask questions about who's involved in an incident, where it's happening, what's happening and if there are any drugs, alcohol or weapons involved.

For RCMP officers responding to the calls, the extra information is much appreciated.

"We rely on them for so much and for them to make this extra effort to help keep us safe makes a big difference in our day to day," says Cst. Adrian Boal, with the Estevan detachment in southern Saskatchewan.

The added questions are just one way the OCCs are responding to the pandemic. To help keep their employees safe, office layout and scheduling have been adapted to allow for more physical distance and additional workspace cleanings are conducted.

"OCCs across the country were on this right away and we knew we needed to protect employees," says Macdonald.

Close attention was paid to information and advice from local, provincial and national public health organizations to ensure a safe work environment for the telecommunication operators.

"It's been an ongoing information session," Richard Millette, who oversees the OCC in Ottawa. "The staff really work as a team and they're conscious of everyone's needs."

Handwashing and frequently sanitizing computer mice, keyboards and door handles have been especially important. Operators can't wear a mask during a call as their voice must be easy to understand on the radio and phone.

"I really commend the telecommunications operators," says Macdonald. "They don't have the option to work from home and many have had to amend their schedules and child care arrangements."

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