(by Jim Mc Aninch)
911 dispatchers are a unique group of professionals who perform a vital function in every community. They are the first people to connect with individuals or groups who have an emergency need. Dispatchers must take the information, figure out the need and then relay that information to the proper responders with the correct location in seconds. There is no room for error, for they are dealing with life and death situations. Like the military and their special operation individuals, they are a challenging group to gain entry into.
For over twenty years, I have been a trained and experienced member of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania’s Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) team, one of hundreds of CISM teams located around the world. The CISM program is an organized approach to crisis intervention and contains a package of crisis intervention techniques. CISM is a subdivision of the main field of crisis intervention, which covers more situations than CISM. CISM’s role is to assist until a referral resource can take over the intervention.
The primary focus of CISM is to support people who are exposed to work-related traumatic events. “A trauma or a crisis remains a trauma or a crisis until some resolution is found.”. It doesn’t matter if it has been 5 minutes, 50 years or a lifetime since the trauma occurred.
CISM teams assist police, fire and emergency services professionals – your “first responders”. Unfortunately, dispatchers originally were not seen as first responders because they are not physically present at the scene of emergencies. It is finally being recognized that dispatchers are affected by the same events as other first responders.
In 2008, I was called in to help with a crisis that had occurred within the northern zone of the Pittsburgh call center. On the northern zone’s weekend off, the team’s group leader/mentor and his wife were killed in a tragic car crash. Crew members were unaware of the incident until reporting to work. The whole crew was impacted by the event and was unable to safely work on the screens. The chief administrative officer of EMS for Allegheny County requested immediate help from Pittsburgh’s CISM team. I was available and went in to assess the need and provide what I was trained in regarding crisis intervention. I educated them about the possible effects of a critical incident, but I became aware that more was needed. I wanted to help them with immediate relief. I chose to integrate Thought Field Therapy (TFT) into the crisis intervention work. Through the use of TFT, I was able to stabilize thirteen dispatchers through one on ones and combinations in four hours. This allowed them to safely return to work, supporting the city of Pittsburgh. I immediately became the chief’s designated 911 Center CISM representative, and have served in that capacity ever since.
Over the years, I have seen many positive results from my work with dispatchers. Shift commanders and the EMS manager have called me in to help with the top critical incidents affecting the call center. Not only was the technique I had developed effective, the dispatchers in the call center trusted it. In the Allegheny County call center I became known as the “CISM man”. I also began responding to requests from Westmoreland County’s call center.
During the past year, I have been called in to work with four major critical incidents – the worst of the worst. Two calls occurring in Westmoreland County were line-of-duty deaths of a police officer. In one case, the wife of one fallen officer worked in the call center as a dispatcher. The two calls in Allegheny County also were the worst of the worst – the suicide of a call center dispatcher, which was heard over the 911 call, and the sudden death of a twenty year trainer who had impacted so many dispatchers in their journey.
I worked successfully with over forty-seven dispatchers individually at the scene as the event was going on, generally within an hour of the critical incident. I realized that the crisis intervention procedure I had developed, which is integrated with TFT, is quick, effective and repeatable.
I usually see the individual who was visibly impacted by the event first. If they are able to find some relief, are comfortable and trust me, another comes to see me. All my work is done on a voluntary basis and no one is forced to talk with me. I generally spend anywhere from fifteen minutes to an hour with the individuals and I have no previous information about them prior to our meeting. I am usually located in an area where they can come in to see me with privacy. As one individual returns to the call center another arrives. With a major event I am usually there for eight to sixteen hours. I return in eight to twelve hours to see if I missed anyone or if they want to meet with me again.
How do I know this technique is working? Dispatchers are seeking me out because they have heard about the experience of other dispatchers; they trust me. In addition, upper management acknowledges and writes about the positive effects and the effectiveness in the call centers while going through the worst crisis. A seasoned and senior shift commander put it this way. “I watch the dispatchers walk in to see you, and they are very distraught and beaten. But when they come back they are visibly relieved and are able to go back on the screens.”
I am currently on a statewide task force to deal with the increasing problem of suicide with public safety individuals and I am one person’s approval away from putting in a pilot program with one of the largest drug and alcohol treatment programs in the country using these techniques.
Jim Mc Aninch, TFT-ADV, TFT-RCT
Crisis Wellness LLC
Jim Mc Aninch is a veteran who worked as a union steelworker for thirty years. He has been a certified employee assistance professional (CEAP) for over twenty-six years, is a certified trauma responder (CTR) and past executive board member of the Association of Traumatic Stress Specialists. Jim has been a board member of Pittsburgh’s CISM team for over 18 years and is a member of the TFT Foundation’s research and trauma relief committees. Jim is also an ACEP member and participates in the ethics committee. He co-presented a well-received workshop at the 2015 International Energy Psychology Conference on working with first responders.
The 2016 International Energy Psychology Conference will be held in Santa Clara, CA from June 2-5, 2016. Whether you’re new to the field or a seasoned practitioner, you’ll gain valuable tools and insights to help your clients. And you can learn how to use TFT to help traumatized communities heal.
 Mitchell, Jeffery T, PhD and Visnovske, William “Josey” L (2015). Crucial Moments: Stories of Support in Times of Crisis, p24.
 Troxell, Roberta Mary (2008). Indirect Exposure to the Trauma of Others: the Experience of 9-1-1 Telecommunicators, Public Health Implications (unpublished Masters thesis). University of Illinois, Chicago, IL, p197.