Emma tells us how she went from call handler to flight dispatcher

After graduating University I joined West Yorkshire police’s contact centre as a call handler. The role appealed to me as I felt it was an opportunity to help members of the public in their time of need. My time within the contact centre was rewarding and I particularly enjoyed the fast paced environment however, the call volume was demanding and sometimes emotionally testing. Working within the department also offered a number of opportunities including being a part of training new call handlers. After 3 years and a few thousand 999 calls later I decided it was time to broaden my horizons and embark on a new challenge. A vacancy arose to become a flight dispatcher within the NPAS operations centre and despite having little knowledge about police aviation I decided to apply.

One of the things I find most appealing about working within the contact centre and as a flight dispatcher is the variety of incidents we face on a daily basis. Working in a control room environment is never predictable, you never know what will be at the end of the phone or on a log transfer. As you cannot prepare for the unexpected the role really puts your problem solving and decision making skills to the test. These skills are particularly important in NPAS as we deal with the most serious of incidents, i.e. threat to life and serious offenders. Limited resources can also affect deployment as you can find yourself with two equally important tasks in opposite directions but only one aircraft to send. Although the role can be challenging, it is always rewarding when the aircraft find a missing person safe and well or locate a suspect. A dispatcher’s contribution may be small but good outcomes confirm that you have made the right deployment decision.

Working in a control room environment is never predictable, you never know what will be at the end of the phone or on a log transfer

As a flight dispatcher our knowledge base is slightly different to a divisional control room. When considering deployment you need to assess the job to ascertain if the tasking is viable for an aircraft and whether under regulations they are able to lift. There are a number of things which can affect an aircraft attending a job including: weather restrictions, pilot hours, aircraft flying hours etc. These restrictions make it hard as ideally we would like to deploy an aircraft to every request we receive, not being able to fulfil requests with our finite resources can be a source of frustration particularly when they are viable jobs.

Additionally, part of our role is to flight follow, this involves monitoring take offs, landings and conducting checks whilst aircraft are airborne. If an aircraft is airborne and we have no response the loss of contact procedure must be followed, this can be a concerning time particularly if the aircraft is not tracking on our mapping system. On most occasions the lack of contact is due to the crews being busy however, for those few minutes you do worry for the crew’s safety.

Finally, from working in control rooms I have learnt that the people around you make a significant difference to your working life. Having a supportive team to help you when you’re busy, someone to ask if you are alright after a bad job or even just to make you a cuppa really makes life easier when you’re having a bad day!

Thank Emma and the team by using #UnsungHeroes on social media. If you have a story, please email hello@controlroomweek.com