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911 operators open up about obstacles when handling crises like Pulse

News 6 talks with Orange Co. communications supervisor after 911 calls released


ORLANDO, Fla. – Inside the Orange County communications center on the morning of the Pulse nightclub massacre, sat 30 men and women, including three who were training, taking in phone call after phone call.

The calls pouring into Orange County's system after Orlando's got jammed up.

"There are so many calls that come in that it overloads the circuits and they bounce to another agency for backup," said OCSO Communications Supervisor Candy Soucek. "But no call goes unanswered. We make sure all the calls get answered."

Of the 17 calls released by Orange County Sheriff's Office, one of the first ones came with one of the first obstacles of the morning. A neighbor called frantically asking for help, after he heard gunshots and people banging on his doors, but he didn't speak English. You can hear on the 911 call the operator reach out to a resource called Language Lines Solutions.

"Thank you for calling Language Lines Solutions, what language do you need?" asked the translator on the 911 call.

"We do have some Spanish speakers here. Spanish is the one we normally use and we do have one on every shift, but they might have been busy," Soucek said. "So we go to the next closest thing which is Language Line because within 60 seconds we need to have a conversation to see what's going on. They answer the phone and we tell them we need Spanish, French, whatever language they need, which they provide over 240 languages so we can pretty much translate any person or tourist that comes here."

But after that first phone call, the obstacles grew harder with family members growing more impatient as the morning went on. Several called 911 over and over again begging for these operators to tell police to go in and save their loved ones trapped inside.

"People are going to die," yelled one man whose girlfriend was trapped in the bathroom."This is like the (expletive)  fifth time I've called!"

"It's frustrating for us too because there is a protocol that needs to be handled," Soucek added. "We try to give them as much care as we can and as much compassion as we can while still getting that information so we can get it out."

Soucek said it isn't until that caller hangs up, that the operator can step away and decompress.

"The main thing in your mind and the thing we are trained on is that the caller is your main concern, it's not about you, it's the caller," she said.

Soucek said the morning of Pulse the communications Crisis Emergency Response Team (CERT) was called in. CERT is a team of operators on-call who came in to take over for dispatchers who needed a break or were overwhelmed by the calls. Adding anyone who took a phone call took part in a debriefing within 72 hours of the massacre.
 


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