Monthly Archives: March 2016

What does is take to become a 9-1-1 dispatcher?

San Francisco's 9-1-1 Dispatch Floor

San Francisco’s 9-1-1 Dispatch Floor

Dispatchers make up almost half of our staff at the Department of Emergency Management (DEM). We consider them the first, first responders in an emergency. They are the first person on the line when you call 9-1-1, and often they continue to help manage the emergency by directing police officers, fire fighters, and medics to your location. Their job is often a rollercoaster, not knowing what situation they will find when picking up the phone and often not knowing how the calls that they take will end.

Our dispatchers are resilient, quick on their toes and try to find humor in some of the more difficult parts of their jobs. The commitment they make to the department and the public when choosing to embark on the journey of becoming a dispatcher is quite large. As we welcome another 15 new hopeful dispatchers to the Academy at the end of the month we wanted to reflect on what they’re in for. What does it take to graduate from the POST Dispatcher Academy and be set free on the 9-1-1 dispatch floor?

We sat down with Lorrie Serna, a Training Coordinator for our Division of Emergency Communications to glean a greater understanding as to what this new class is in for.  Lorrie shared that dispatchers begin their training in the classroom where they spend 8 weeks diving into the basics of what it takes to be a dispatcher. They begin by learning all SFPD radio codes, reviewing phonetics, learning how to navigate through our CAD (Computer Aided Dispatch) system, and completing POST required courses. In addition they must master the geography of the City, radio dispatching, and the Medical and Fire Standards of the International Academy of Emergency Dispatch. Lastly, they begin engaging in scenario-based training, and observe other dispatchers in operations (the 9-1-1 dispatch floor).


After their full orientation and basic training, they move towards ‘on the job training’ meaning that they start to take calls. Dispatchers spend 3 months processing calls before they are monitored for release to work on their own.  To make things a little more unique, the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management is a combined call center, so dispatchers must learn how to process all 9-1-1 calls for Police, Medical and Fire, as well as Police non-emergency.  After these intense three months, they are released as a call taker, but the training isn’t over.  The class must return for a short 2-day radio dispatch refresher, and return for another 3 months of on the job training for police radio dispatch.

The above process takes 8-9 months, and at the end the dispatcher should be released to manage radio dispatch calls, but even then they are not yet finished. The probation period after basic and on the job training is one year, after which the class returns to the classroom for Fire Radio Dispatching training followed by 5 weeks of more the job training for release.  Are you as exhausted as I am?! That’s a total of roughly 2 years of training before dispatchers are completely on their own on the 9-1-1 floor.

Their tireless dedication to their service and to the training component of their job is to be commended. It is clear from this process that training is integral to developing new and strong 9-1-1 talent.  The training component of their career never ends.  As new technology is developed we must upgrade our systems and be prepared to evolve with the times. We look forward to this new class of hopeful dispatchers and are appreciative of our training staff that will simultaneously undergo this massive commitment to the next generation of 9-1-1.

Would you like to be a 9-1-1 dispatcher? Think you’re up to the task? Apply here.


A Changing of the Guard…

Patrick Mulcahey has been at the Department of Emergency Management (DEM) for 14 years, and today will be his last day on the 9-1-1 dispatch floor. We had the pleasure of sitting down with Patrick and his successor in training Shannon Bond to talk about how their position impacts the Department, and a little about their history here.

If you have ever called 9-1-1, in San Francisco there’s a remote possibly it was their voice providing reassurance and calm during your emergency.  They may also have been the force behind directing police officers, fire fighters, and medics to your location. While you may have never interacted with Patrick in the past or with the Shannon in the future, this much is certain: The dispatcher answering your call or sending you help developed their skill and expertise because of training instructors like Patrick and Shannon.

911 Dispatchers answering phones

Call 9-1-1 to receive help for emergencies, potential emergencies, or if you are not sure if it’s an emergency.

So what has Patrick been up to all these years? After ten years as a 9-1-1 dispatcher, Patrick transitioned to the position of Training Section Assistant. The Training Section Assistant has the unique responsibility of helping to train all new dispatchers that come through the door. Dispatcher training often lasts up to a year on average, it is incredibly intense, demanding, and often weeds out the folks that are not quite ready for the volatility of 9-1-1 work. When we asked how Patrick found himself in this position, he humbly responded that he volunteered! This isn’t too surprising as he described that he found himself at DEM originally because of his desire to serve the public.

Patrick spent a long time sitting on the 9-1-1 dispatch floor assisting new dispatchers with on the job training, helping them as they took their first 9-1-1 calls. He expressed that the most difficult and the most gratifying part of his job was learning how to command a classroom and teach a completely new subject matter to students from the beginning.

Shannon Bond has been with the department for four years as a dispatcher and is learning the ropes from Patrick. Shannon comes to this position with some serious teaching experience of his own. As a classroom flight instructor, Shannon had a sincere passion for teaching and cultivating students. His most challenging and most gratifying moments in the classroom are learning how to recognize different learning styles, and that wonderful moment when you break through to someone who is struggling with the subject matter. Shannon will begin as an instructor to his first academy class at the end of March when we will welcome 15 new hopeful dispatchers.

This is a true changing of the guard at DEM, as Shannon was one of Patrick’s very first students in his first academy class four or so years ago. As we lose a passionate, talented, and kind teacher to our dispatcher force, we welcome another talented crew member looking to continue the tradition of education to the next 9-1-1 generation.


(Patrick Mulcahey on the left, Shannon Bond on the right)

Patrick, thank you for your service, you will truly be missed. Shannon, as Patrick put so eloquently, “You’re going to knock their socks off.”



5th Anniversary of Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami

An inspiring story about hope found after a Tsunami.


Today marks the 5th anniversary of the Tohoku, Japan Earthquake and Tsunami. The earthquake was a magnitude 9.0 and was the most powerful known earthquake ever to have hit Japan. The earthquake triggered powerful tsunami waves that reached heights of up to 133 feet and traveled up to six miles inland.

Immediately after the earthquake, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Pacific Tsunami Warning Center and the West Coast and Alaska Tsunami Warning Center both issued tsunami warnings for Hawaii, the U.S. West Coast, Alaska and the island territories in the Pacific. A tsunami warning is the highest level of alert so DEM got to work, gathering in the early morning hours at our Emergency Operations Center and began issuing public alerts and warnings about the tsunami expected to hit the California coast line. Thankfully, the tsunami caused little damage. We were lucky.

While the tsunami generated by the Tohoku Earthquake which hit Hawaii and the West Coast caused relatively minor damage, it reminds us of the need to be aware of how tsunami alerts and warnings are issued. There are various alerting tools available, including the City’s Outdoor Public Warning siren system (Tuesday Noon Sirens); Wireless Emergency Alerts; and AlertSF, our text-based message system that delivers emergency information to mobile phones and other text-enabled devices, as well as email accounts. DEM also issues public alerts and warnings on Facebook and Twitter (@sf_emergency). In an emergency, the SF72 Crisis Map will also serve as San Francisco’s real-time information hub.  You’ll find official updates, reports from our partners, and crisis map to navigate city resources.

Originally created by Francis Zamora

A Comprehensive Guide to Everything El Nino

As the weekend promises a lot of wet weather, here’s some helpful tips about storm (and El Nino) preparedness.


Here at the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management (SFDEM) we’ve been planning for and talking about El Nino for a long time. We wanted to offer you a one-stop-shop of all things El Nino to help you feel more prepared and to assist you in sharing, educating, and empowering those around you with the same intel. We know this is a lot of information, but we hope that it answers some of your questions regarding what may come to be.

Above all SFDEM encourages you to do five things:

  1. Make a Plan
  2. Gather Emergency Supplies
  3. Register for
  4. Learn the difference between 3-1-1 and 9-1-1
  5. Follow us on social media
    1. Twitter: @SF_emergency, @SF72org
    2. Facebook: @SF72org, @SFDEM

For an in-depth guide please feel free to read away and share this valuable information!


Why do I need to “prepare” for rain? This is ridiculous. Well…we know it might…

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