Thirty four dispatchers seated at rows of folding tables scribbled notes Wednesday at the North East Street fire house as an instructor quizzed them on best practices for responding to an active-shooter scenario.
“What’s one of the most important questions to ask your caller?” asked Sheri Hokamp, an adjunct instructor with the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials International.
The class was quiet for a moment until one of the dispatchers found the answer: “Are you safe?”
Hokamp nodded. Ensuring the safety of the caller and first responders in the area is a top priority for communications officers when shots are being fired, she said.
Hokamp moved to another question: What’s one of the most important things to keep in mind as you speak to your caller?
Another brief silence, then, “Customer service.”
Hokamp nodded again.
In the case of an active shooter scenario, recordings of the 911 call are likely to go public and will be reviewed continually as an investigation unfolds, she said. The 911 caller must keep their cool no matter what happens on the other end of the call — in the store, the home, the street, the school.
“Don’t let ‘em see you sweat,” she said.
Hokamp, who also runs a 911 call center in Biloxi, Miss., was brought in by the Highland County Sheriff’s Office to teach an all-day comprehensive course on active-shooter incidents and how dispatchers and communications officers should respond.
The training was the first of its kind to be held here, according to Corp. Scott Miller, HCSO dispatch coordinator.
Dispatchers and communications officers from 911 call centers in Highland County, Butler County, Fayette County, Montgomery County, Brown County, Huron County, Ross County, Hamilton County, Adams County and Pickaway County attended the training as part of required ongoing education.
The course included training on the phases of an active-shooter incident; the differences between regular active-shooter scenarios and school shootings; law enforcement, fire service and EMS roles; response and secondary dangers such as bomb threats; the role of telecommunicators; interaction with the media; and dealing with the aftermath of a tragedy.
Miller told The Times-Gazette that his reason for coordinating the class was simple: Emergency workers can’t afford to wait.
“It’s something we want to prepare for,” he said. “We don’t want to be behind on this.”
Sgt. Shana Reffitt, the 911 center supervisor at the HCSO, said dispatchers across America should be prepared for situations involving active shooters.
“It can happen anywhere, even in small communities like our’s,” she said. “Obviously, we hope it doesn’t.”
As Hokamp boxed up her curriculum after the class, bound for another training elsewhere in Southern Ohio, she said she hopes dispatchers never have to use what they learn in her courses, but if the situation presents itself, they’ll at least have training.
“It’s preparing for the unpreparable,” she said.
Reach David Wright at 937-402-2570, or on Twitter @DavidWrighter.