Article By: Cherie Bartram

Imagine you are taking a call for service and putting your notes in CAD, or if you don’t have CAD, you are writing them out. How important are they?

Did you answer critical? If you did, then you answered correctly.

The notes that are recorded for a call for service are retained for far longer than the recordings are. For PSAPs dispatching using vertical dispatching, meaning each dispatcher is responsible for the call for service from start to finish, recording proper notes may not seem important because the information is being given to responders as it is received. In addition, the term proper is subjective. Proper for one person may mean something like, “suspect running”. Proper for another person may mean “suspect wearing a blue shirt, white shorts, white hair, running EB main street).

In court cases, probability must be proven. Call notes are critical where no recording is available. Without the information documented in written format, there is not as strong of a trail as to why an arrest was made. Also, the case may seem simple enough but there are cases that have been part of a civil or criminal charge and the notes are the only thing defense has to go on. Several years ago there was a basement fire at a residence. The fire was not significant, a lot of smoke damage but minimal structural damage and no loss of life. Fourteen months later, the insurance company was fighting the homeowner’s claim and the notes from the call were instrumental in proving that the homeowner started the fire based on what the dispatcher was being told on scene and the actions he specifically took. Every action taken by the dispatcher that day had been documented. The notification of the electric utility company, the specific requests made from on scene, and of course times was recorded as events occurred.

The other important item regarding notes is the incident where dispatching is horizontal, meaning the dispatcher/ call-taker is a different person than the radio dispatcher. This type of dispatching is faster and more efficient only when the two people involved are focused on their specific tasks and the caller notes are updated for the call steadily and relayed by the dispatcher to responders. When the call remains in the queue for any length of time, efficiency is lost. Since PSAPs are configured differently throughout the world it can be difficult to identify the culture of the organization. In one PSAP it may be an acceptable practice to provide updates verbally across the room to the dispatcher. While this is recognized as not being the best method because verbal communications may be missed, providing the information in the call notes can always be traced and accounted for. In another PSAP, a verbal notification to the dispatcher is not even a possibility because of the distance between them and the busyness of the PSAP. In this scenario the notes on the call must be thorough and in a long call with a lot of information, the notes must contain the critical factors for a successful dispatch.

As a long-time member of the 911 profession, I can confidently say that working in a horizontal or a vertical center each has its pros and cons. I learned early in my career to make sure my notes contained all of the information as well as being “readable”. Minimal spelling errors, abbreviations that were widely recognized and acceptable practices, and steady updates when necessary. My personal goal working in a horizontal center was to make sure the dispatcher never had to ask me questions about the call. My personal goal working in a vertical center was making sure the officer could clearly understand what notes were in the CAD, and all of the questions were addressed before there was a chance for the officer to ask because the calls for service were displayed on the MDT in the vehicle.

Remember the old phrase, “If it isn’t in writing it didn’t happen.” The Department of Labor (DOL) provided expert testimony in regards to this and the phrase spans every profession. Make sure you never have to sit in court and try to remember what you did, or didn’t do, fifteen months prior. Write your notes in the calls for service with intentional attention to being clear, concise, and detailed.