ABSTRACT

Introduction: There is now substantial research literature on the occupational stress among emergency dispatchers from multiple studies that have cited dispatcher claims of significant emotional, mental, and physical stress as a result of their work. However, there is very little literature that ranks in order of prevalence or severity the factors contributing to overall stress specific to emergency dispatchers. The aim of this study is to collect data that will complement other research findings in this field to inform the development of new programs designed to address specific factors contributing to dispatch stress and build better psychological health among this group.

Objectives: The objectives of this study are to determine levels of perceived stress amongst voluntary participants and to determine commonalities amongst participants in regard to factors they named as contributing to that perceived stress and type of courses taken to mitigate stress.

Methods: The pilot study was conducted at Snohomish County 911 and the participant pool included all emergency dispatchers on staff. Participants self-selected as participation was voluntary; answers were provided anonymously. The survey included a 10 question Perceived Stress Scale (PSS), demographics questions, and the main survey question pertaining to factors the participant believed contributed to their stress. Participants were provided with information for Peer Support, EAP and other resources in the event that the survey triggered unpleasant connections to situations suggested by the terms listed. The main survey question included a freeform text box for participants to input their answer and then content analysis was used to analyze the feedback. The self-reported factors contributing to the emergency dispatchers’ stress was then ranked (per PSS) in order of prevalence. Demographic data was summarized using descriptive statistics.

Results: Of the 75 participants, the top responses given for factors contributing to their stress relate to issues with managers, work/life balance and overtime and/or schedules, followed by health or family issues and stress resulting from different aspects of the job.

Conclusion: The study findings showed that personal and family demands, and job demands are closely ranked as the top causes of emergency dispatch stress. In future research, demographic questions relating to emergency communications center location, size and disciplines should be considered to facilitate further extrapolation of the data.

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