By Jenna-Lee Neff
When someone spends their day answering emergency calls, many of which are often life or death situations, it is likely to have a strong impact on their mental health. This is the reality for numerous emergency dispatchers in Phoenix, where in 2019 there were nearly a million calls answered for police and fire service alone, according to the city.
“Our staff are frequently talking to people in crisis on what may be the worst day of their lives,” says Phoenix Police communications manager Myla Marovich.
A study on duty-related trauma exposure in emergency dispatchers showed that they report high levels of peritraumatic distress, which may increase the risk for developing posttraumatic stress disorder. As the study highlights, often emergency dispatchers must quickly assess situations and the dangers involved while remaining calm and having limited control.
It was the tremendous emotional weight of the work they do that led to the original creation of a ‘quiet room’ as a place for emergency dispatchers to decompress. But according to Marovich, the former room was not very peaceful.
“The quiet room is a place for employees to retreat to when they need some time to relax and gather their thoughts during their hectic workday,” Marovich shares. “Having a place to decompress for a few moments from that high-stress environment is important for our people to be able to perform their best work.”
Seeing the need to update the space, Phoenix Police Crisis Intervention Team Detective Sabina Taylor reached out to the Rotary Club and pitched the idea of a sponsored, updated quiet room.
“She was an advocate for Communications and saw the need to have this space be a more relaxing and usable space for our operators,” Marovich says. “She is the one who spearheaded the project.”
To create the new room, a former storage room was repurposed. The first steps in designing the atmosphere was to lay new flooring and put a fresh coat of paint on the walls. The second stage of the project involved decorating the room with new artwork and comfortable furniture to promote relaxation.
“Operators were happy with the outcome and grateful for the newly remodeled space,” Marovich says.
Marovich shares that since its creation, feedback on the room has been overwhelmingly positive and shows emergency dispatchers are happy with their quiet get away, with many saying the new space is beautiful and relaxing and comparing the atmosphere to the mood found in spas.
“Our operators utilize this space regularly,” she says. “We had operators tell us that now it is something they would actually partake in where before they avoided the room due to the general state of it.”
The project took about $5,000 to complete in its entirety. Those interested in catching a peek at the room can catch footage of the room and the dedication ceremony on the city’s YouTube page at youtube.com/user/cityofphoenixaz.