Behind the Scenes of 911 Calls

The Atlantic
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97% 1 390 37

Inside an emergency dispatch center in San Francisco, 911 operators navigate the daily stresses of their job. Read more: www.theatlantic.com/video/index/588217/911/
"The Shift" was directed by Elivia Shaw and Paloma Martinez. It is part of The Atlantic Selects, an online showcase of short documentaries from independent creators, curated by The Atlantic.
Subscribe to The Atlantic on USvid: bit.ly/subAtlanticYT


Published on


Apr 29, 2019




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Comments 123
Intel 007
Intel 007 11 days ago
James Turner
James Turner 14 days ago
I gotta hand it to all the 911 dispatchers for every thing they go through dayend/dayout! Thank u for everything u do! Keep up the good work.
cmonster6 Month ago
Why is this place so dark?
Karen Allman
Karen Allman Month ago
34 years now retired.
Jerry Dunham
Jerry Dunham 2 months ago
We often give credit to police, fire, ambulance. They wouldnt get to us without these operators. Thank you for all you do, and ill pray that you dont live the calls daily.
PETER PYCH 2 months ago
Postal nite mare!!
Abhra Biswas
Abhra Biswas 3 months ago
How emotionally demanding this line of work must be. Thank you for your service.
Tim Norris
Tim Norris 3 months ago
It is well known amongst many informed peopled, including retired US military staff, that 911 was premeditated and was an act of the US industrial/military complex against the US population to justify complete NATO involvement in regime change in the Middle East to protect the petrodollar. Summary of Case On August 19, 2008, 53 year old Barry Jennings died, two days before the release of the NIST Final Report on the collapse of WTC7. Jennings was Deputy Director of Emergency Services Department for the New York City Housing Authority. On September 11th, 2001, he saw and heard explosions BEFORE the Twin Towers fell, while attempting to evacuate the WTC 7 Command Center with NYC Corporation Counsel Michael Hess. Jennings publicly shared his experiences with a reporter on the day of 9/11/01, as well as in a lengthy 2007 video interview with Dylan Avery, a small clip of which was then released; subsequently his job was threatened and he asked that the taped interview not be included in Loose Change Final Cut.. However, after an interview with Jennings was broadcast by the BBC in their program The Third Tower ostensibly refuting what he had previously stated to Avery, Avery felt compelled to release the full original video interview to show the distortions made by the BBC. The cause of Jennings' death has not been made public, and a private investigator hired by Avery to discover the cause and circumstances surrounding his death refused to proceed with the investigation. In spite of the significance of Jennings' position with NYC on 9/11 and his controversial eyewitness testimony regarding the collapse of WTC7, the media has not investigated or reported on his death, nor reported on his statements.
ytubeanon 3 months ago
lol look at this dumb spam robot thinking this video's about 9/11 instead of 911
Hockey&Life etc.
Hockey&Life etc. 3 months ago
This would be the best job for sociopaths/psychopaths. They wouldn't care at all. They'll just do the job and that's it.
Erdogan Leader of OIC
This job is for saving people's life.
Frozen_Angel Playz
Frozen_Angel Playz 5 months ago
Eric Yu
Eric Yu 5 months ago
ytubeanon 5 months ago
can't stand the asian lady's vibe, her way of dealing with the stress is to be low-key sarcastic
Jessi Woosley
Jessi Woosley 3 months ago
Glad I'm not the only one. She made me mad
King Farao
King Farao 5 months ago
The craziest job but I cant see myself doing anything else. I love the chaos and being raised in a very dysfunctional environment, did my schooling in violent surrounding, I suppose is the main reasons why I can do this without breaking a sweat. Your worst day is my everyday at work
Woxwell 5 months ago
Why would the government harm us. They are the parents of the adults, just like we are the parents of our kids. We are the children of the government. We cannot exist with them. We need their control over us till the day we go bye bye.
Walter Gramajo
Walter Gramajo 5 months ago
This is so sad
Валерия Пронина
работают лучше чем наши
slosher 8 months ago
This is in SF? I'm sure they're busy from clock in to clock out
josh656 8 months ago
Former police officer here...these folks are the true unsung heroes, I wouldn't last a day in their shoes!
DiiE-Ana 214
DiiE-Ana 214 8 months ago
I wonder why the place is so dark tho?
DiiE-Ana 214
DiiE-Ana 214 8 months ago
One of the most stressful. Intense jobs evrr
VibeVixen02 9 months ago
Rescue 911 could use a modern reboot
FairyGardens TV
FairyGardens TV 7 months ago
I agree.
Quinn R.
Quinn R. 9 months ago
Director: “Ok now everyone just start pretending like you’re on a call and make it crazy” Dispatcher: “And you said you’re falling out of a plane without arms? Help is on its way ok?”
Gena Lenz
Gena Lenz 5 months ago
You're kidding right. Their calls never. Ever. Stop. There is always someone calling, in need of help or not, people call. SOMEONE has to to take that call. Immediately.
Cyndi Brown
Cyndi Brown 9 months ago
I wouldn't be able to do this for 5 minutes.
chad rakestraw
chad rakestraw 9 months ago
This is a pretty accurate representation. I take 911 calls and actually just got off shift. Everyday is something different and the stress builds but you have to answer that next call. It’s sometimes hard to get someone’s voice out of your head. It’s got challenges but also rewards.
Shadow Fox
Shadow Fox 9 months ago
Thank you for your work
Alltrss 9 months ago
My mom is actually training to be a 911 dispatcher and her training is 3 to 6 months and omg the amount of codes she has is ridiculous
Sherry Wyllie
Sherry Wyllie 9 months ago
I dispatched in Oakland back in 80s. We covered 5 offices in 4 counties. Before cell phones was easier I think. It is wonderful that these dispatchers have access to gym for release of physical stress.
Bucky Gregg
Bucky Gregg 9 months ago
I can't even begin to express how much I appreciate this video. The way it expresses the day to day of the job. There's so much in this video, almost two sides to it. There's the perspective of the general public who have never worked in the field, and then there's the perspective of those who do it for a career. So much good information to educate the public, yet for those who do the work, there's a connection with what each person is saying. A connection of being there and knowing how that person feels.
abisz007007 9 months ago
No Music, No sensationalized on site footage, just a potrait of those workers. Hats off for that.
DC Infinity
DC Infinity 9 months ago
Such a well produced video! You let their experience speak for itself without interviews or narrations or anything. Beautiful
Josh Christiane
Josh Christiane 9 months ago
Thank you for the fantastic quality videos.
Kenzi 9 months ago
The Asian lady is so over stupid people
ytubeanon 3 months ago
she's not smart, just immature and incompetently sarcastic like a typical teenager, she'll sound just as "stupid" when someone she cares about is bleeding to death
Mike Mondano
Mike Mondano 9 months ago
Having been outside such a center, I have heard the dispatchers call callers "whiners", "trash", and worse. They have also laughed about delaying help for people they think sound funny or who don't speak clearly, like when they have a mouth full of blood. Their chief amusement is being as sarcastic as possible to callers. Other cops often join in.
ETOPS 8 days ago
Your comment is a complete fallacy, these people are the unsung heroes of our community. If you personally heard a cop say those things it’s likely they were directed at you while they were rightfully taking you to jail. You’re a piece of shit.
Alexander Davis
Alexander Davis 9 months ago
That's a lie
Bailey 9 months ago
Like trying to watch Game of Thrones.... why so dark?
Conr S
Conr S 9 months ago
Well done Atlantic, thank you for this
Amara Jordan
Amara Jordan 9 months ago
My brother worked at a suicide hotline for almost a year while he was pursuing his master’s in Clinical Psychology, and it was really hard for him. To hear the pain the people were in and to only be able to do certain things for them. To have them hang up and not be able to be rescued, wondering if they had, in fact, killed themselves. It was really hard for him; he has anxiety himself and it was... emotionally draining and disturbing. I was glad when he rotated off of that. I can’t imagine dealing with a wider array of the darker side of humanity, never knowing what you’d get. It could be someone mad they got overdone chicken nuggets or a hostage situation in a bank. What bothers me is all the calls that are... completely pointless. 40-90% or 911 calls are deemed to not be an emergency. People either have stupid things they feel they should “report” or they should go to a doctor or the hospital (they can drive there, or even wait for an appointment) or or they’re “butt dials.” In just LA about 200,000 calls weren’t able to be answered due to demand. If the stats hold up, then there were at least 10% that were real emergencies that weren’t able to be answered due to the abuse of others on the system. How many people needed help and didn’t get it in time? It really pisses me off, to be frank.
Lisa Bowers
Lisa Bowers 9 months ago
I was a 911 dispatcher for our local sheriff's office _way_ back in 1993. I quit after 6 months because I couldn't handle the stress. Sometimes I had to go to the bathroom and just cry. Several of the calls I took were so horrific, I'll never get them out of my head. I not only took 911 calls, but I also dispatched sheriff's deputies. This is where I have to say, it's a good thing technology has improved! Our dispatch radios sounded like McDonald's drive-thru speakers. They were so bad, I'd have to keep asking the deputies to 10-9 (repeat). My _greatest fear_ was getting an officer calling for help and then not being able to understand his reported location. If I was on radio duty, then _I_ was responsible for that deputy's life. Between _that_ stress and the traumatic calls, I had to resign. Thank you for making this video. I don't believe people are fully aware of how difficult this job is. It's not something you ever really think about, until the moment you need their help. I have *mad respect* for anyone who has the strength and fortitude to be a 911 dispatcher!
Thatswhathesaid MichaelScott
Lisa Bowers 🥺
Conr S
Conr S 9 months ago
@Amara Jordan I always try to call Crisis hotline back to let them know that people are ok after officers arrive. I'm sure it varies by area but we have a large number of people who attempt or more commonly threaten suicide but never follow through with significant action. There is a large move towards having mental health practitioners go out in the field with officers to help reduce the burden on law enforcement.
Amara Jordan
Amara Jordan 9 months ago
During your tenure you helped people; and that’s what matters. My brother worked at a suicide hotline while he was getting his master’s in Clinical Psychology. He has anxiety, and that job was... pretty horrible. To have people call and then hang up and you don’t know if they followed through on their threat or not. Hands being tied by the regulations of what to say and when. I’m sorry for the toll it took on you, but I bet that coming through it, it made you an even more empathetic person; you can’t be a witness to that much pain and it not change you. I just hope it did in some good ways too. And thank you for your tenure.
Ash Farlow
Ash Farlow 9 months ago
I could never do this. Most stressful job in the world.
Ben Morgan
Ben Morgan 5 months ago
Ash Farlow
Ash Farlow 9 months ago
@MOPARGuy Yes they do. They BOTH do.
MOPARGuy 9 months ago
Ash Farlow traffic air controllers have a stressful job.
Christian Desrosiers
Love my job :-)
Cam 9 months ago
this is such a good doc omg
Scot Czubaj
Scot Czubaj 9 months ago
Well done! 21 years on the job. We need the support from the people and government to pass the 911 Saves Act.
Chris Mackerdush
Chris Mackerdush 9 months ago
Your films are of such high quality, it blows my mind how relatively low the number of views are. Although that makes me treasure them even more.
Cantara Bella
Cantara Bella 9 months ago
Everything is so dark!!!!
Conr S
Conr S 9 months ago
Easier to relax
TJ Waters
TJ Waters 9 months ago
This was quite shallow. I hope it's part of a more involved piece.
khadi ja
khadi ja 9 months ago
I'm wondering why there is no video call possibility. I mean that would improve the work of the dispatchers, as one woman said at the end, they aren't sure what is reality, and it would be great evidences for the police.
Cindra Dunaway
Cindra Dunaway 4 months ago
The technology is heading in that direction - unfortunately it comes with both good and bad - the stress alone of "hearing" horrific things is enough to give some PTSD. Imagine seeing them also. As well as people being people - think Facebook Live - people now live streaming crimes in progress instead of helping or calling 911 in the first place. Such a sad state we live in.
Fandom Edits
Fandom Edits 9 months ago
True, but it would be traumatic.
Conr S
Conr S 9 months ago
That is a good idea and would be useful in certain situations but overall it wouldn't make it much easier.
Mathieux A
Mathieux A 9 months ago
Do they use civilians for San Francisco? It seemed like they were if they were able to come to work in T-shirts
Cindra Dunaway
Cindra Dunaway 4 months ago
Most agencies are civilians - some sworn work in the comm center to help out or get some overtime - most if not all centers are locked to all except operators/dispatchers and supervisors. Uniforms aren't always the norm due to not being seen by the public.
LaElla Dickerson
LaElla Dickerson 9 months ago
Mathieux A I feel like for the work they do, appearance isn’t as important as other jobs.
Jeff W
Jeff W 9 months ago
Oh, it's over. I thought it was just beginning.
Jeff W
Jeff W 9 months ago
@Jayne Harper yeah I guess when you look at it like that. I just was expecting a documentary lol so this video seemed like an introduction. It seems 911 operator seems like an intense job
Jayne Harper
Jayne Harper 9 months ago
I like that they just ended it..... just like the perspective from the dispatcher.
Linda 10 months ago
Why are they working in the dark
Conr S
Conr S 9 months ago
Also it's 11pm no wants the room to be lit up at night.
Amara Jordan
Amara Jordan 9 months ago
I’d love that! I have photophobia and can’t be in natural light for more than a few minutes because it triggers migraines (in basically a lame vampire in a way) and a dark room would be such an ideal work space. Yesss!
Scot Czubaj
Scot Czubaj 9 months ago
Less eye strain and fatigue from screens.
Clinton Gwanyama
Clinton Gwanyama 9 months ago
Linda it reduces the stress level in the room
xxsl8sherxx 10 months ago
Well done. Good video
Timothy O'Brien
Timothy O'Brien 10 months ago
FJ C 10 months ago
I would like to try this job. I love trying to help people. How does someone get this type of job?
RWD22 7 months ago
Call 911. :D
SHE SAID WHAT 9 months ago
Conrad S I thought the classes show them if your responsible to do the job because they can’t just hire you as you could be responsible for the person dying
Conr S
Conr S 9 months ago
@SHE SAID WHAT that depends greatly on where you're located. In our area there are no requirements to take classed for most agencies
SHE SAID WHAT 9 months ago
There’s also a class you have to take
Conr S
Conr S 9 months ago
Look up your local 911 and apply. It's usually that easy. Getting hired is another thing and passing training.. a whole nother level beyond that
Rose Miller
Rose Miller 10 months ago
Very cool behind the scenes! Keep up the good work, Atlantic.
Mmm K
Mmm K 10 months ago
What a stressful job! I can only imagine.. When I worked at AAA taking emergency roadside assistance calls it was pretty stressful sometimes, people yelling and stuff, especially if a baby or animal was locked in a car! But nothing like this. I am so grateful for them and all first responders.
Mmm K
Mmm K 9 months ago
@Mike Mondano Like I said, I can only imagine, sounds really really stressful, magnitudes worse than AAA!
Mike Mondano
Mike Mondano 9 months ago
AAA is just a vacation.
Bridge V
Bridge V 10 months ago
I salute these people. It takes a special Kind of person to do this job, you have people calling in with just absolute panic, feeling helpless and need assistance like yesterday , and then you have complete jerks giving them operators a day and night of hell I'm sure. I couldn’t do it, people are way out of control. Thank you 911 operators for all you do!!
Justin M
Justin M 9 months ago
Bridge V then there’s people that tell us to fuck ourselves while we are trying to save their family’s life
Charles Magnuson
Charles Magnuson 10 months ago
It's a shame that dispatch center doesn't properly light the building. It must be difficult working in the dark.
Cindra Dunaway
Cindra Dunaway 4 months ago
most centers work with low lighting - especially with the all the monitors - easier on the eyes
Conr S
Conr S 9 months ago
I'm guessing this is sarcasm..
ktt1977 9 months ago
The U.S. Navy does it in combat information center, the lowlight helps reduce stress.
Beyond Tribalism
Beyond Tribalism 10 months ago
It's done on purpose, supposed to reduce stress levels.
itismejoey 10 months ago
It's actually better that way during the evening hours. Dim the lights of the center and of the computer screens.
Sincerely Eccentric
Sincerely Eccentric 10 months ago
Imagine trying to save an anonymous person's life, successfully getting the ambulance to them, saying good luck and never knowing what happened after you hung up.
infantebenji 2 months ago
@Hockey&Life etc. you couldn't have said it better, listening to people's"emergencies" is crazy it can be their final moments that will take a toll on anyone's' whose emotional.
Hockey&Life etc.
Hockey&Life etc. 3 months ago
@MRLONG758 The way you get over it is that you have mentally tell yourself that you're strictly doing a job and that's it. You're not supposed to get emotionally attached to these callers. Just treat it like a number. Just hang up and move on. And focus on the cases that turned out well. Because that will make you feel so good inside.
Ghost777 7 months ago
Sincerely Eccentric you can find out my mum was a dispatcher .
i don’t know who i am
My dad did dispatch for medical and was always able to find out what happened
Conr S
Conr S 9 months ago
@MRLONG758 fortunately the officers in my departments will let us know most of the time or we will ask
Razor Stitch
Razor Stitch 10 months ago
Gaming with Kim
Gaming with Kim 3 months ago
I feel like she was a bit rude and had Aditude
ASHGARD7 5 months ago
Razor Stitch 5:03 stop talking to everyone else
m a r s !
m a r s ! 9 months ago
LaElla Dickerson
LaElla Dickerson 10 months ago
I wonder what the turnover rate is for them. They have pretty stressful jobs.
Conr S
Conr S 9 months ago
@John D you're right, pay is pretty bad for alot of people. If you are willing to move to the Pacific Northwest, I work for one of the highest paying agencies in the country
John D
John D 9 months ago
Tons of turnover. At least in the medium sized city I lived in, most of our dispatchers left to go work customer service and the municipal power/internet company. They got paid significantly more there with better benefits with the muni provider than being 911 dispatchers.
Conr S
Conr S 9 months ago
It depends alot on your agency. Turnover is not high for employees over 2 years or so. Most find out quickly if they are up to the challenge and an even greater number do not pass training which can last 3 months to 9 months depending on if you are a 911 comm officer or a dispatcher. Our agency on average has about a 50% pass rate for training
Amara Jordan
Amara Jordan 9 months ago
itismejoey in LA alone over 200,000 calls weren’t able to be answered in the space of only one year. It’s partially due to how many people call when there’s not a true emergency. But still, at LEAST 10% were emergencies, and how many of those people couldn’t call back? It’s really... distressing on many levels.
itismejoey 10 months ago
Very high. There is actually a nationwide shortage of dispatchers. One being because of the stress level, but also because dispatchers don't get the same kind of support (in the US) as another "first responder" would get.
Virt Real
Virt Real 10 months ago
I take my hat off for these people, hearing all kinds of nasty things.
Jeff W
Jeff W 9 months ago
Seems stressful job. Every day every call someone needs help or is in danger, and majority of the time operators have no idea how it ended
furstenfeldbruck 9 months ago
Put your hat back on
ChirashiChef 10 months ago
This is amazing.
Garrett 10 months ago
This is amazing
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