AUSTIN, Texas – They are considered to be the unsung heroes who are not seen, but heard. The dispatchers for Austin police are being praised for their quick response during, what is being called one the most traumatic times in the city’s history.
Last month, a series of bombings rattled Austin leaving behind a wake of death and destruction.
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One of the dispatchers who worked those incidents said it was something that caught everyone by surprise.
Nestled somewhere in East Austin is a place where dispatcher Catherine Causey has called home for 12 years.
“I love what I do,” said Causey. “It makes me feel like I’m giving back to the community that I’ve always been a part of.”
She is the voice you hear when you call 911; the same voice that now sends Austin police officers out on calls. Causey has been with Austin police for 12 years; first as a 911 call taker and then promoted to a dispatcher.
A call taker is someone who answers 911 calls and then relays them to the dispatcher, who communicates with police to send them out to a scene.
“You’re going to have that call that you’ve never heard of, that you’ve never experienced before, but it’s going to happen,” said Causey.
On March 2, 2018, Causey received a call unlike any other reporting a package explosion on the front porch of a Northeast Austin home.
“Can we work shootings? Yes. Can we work pursuits? Yes. But now, you’re throwing bombings and explosions in the mix and it was new to us,” said Causey.
The dispatcher said she didn’t let panic get in the way of her duty.
“The first few seconds of it, the first minute, your hands are shaking. And then you go do what you’re trained to do," Causey said.
She did what she knew best and sent officers out calmly.
"If there’s something inflected in my voice, if there’s stress in my voice, if I’m antsy or if I’m scared in any way, it comes across when I’m talking to the officers,” said Causey.
Ten days later, there were two more explosions; in East and Southeast Austin.
“Bombings weren’t normal,” Causey said. “Getting a call of an explosion and then you receive another call, two on the same day, we’re not accustomed to that.”
Local dispatchers were not used to managing Texas Department of Public Safety state troopers, on top of the 15 Austin police officers they are already in charge of. They also had to learn DPS codes different from the radio channel used by APD.
Causey said it was difficult to send her colleagues out to a dangerous situation that could potentially cost them their lives.
“Scary in your end because you don’t know,” Causey said. “We’re human beings, we do have emotions and we do feel.”
The dispatchers shared their sentiments with a community shaken by the blasts, even from inside the communication center's walls.
“This is a part of our lives now and we’re prepared for it and we know what to do,” said Causey.
Now that the dust has settled, the capital city is continuing the recover. However, the way Causey feels about her job remains, if not, amplified.
"I can’t see doing anything right now that would give me the personal satisfaction that I feel now on a day to day level,” said Causey.
Causey is one of 77 Austin police dispatchers in a team of 230 emergency communicators.
From March 12 to 24, dispatchers answered 38,120 calls related to SXSW and the Austin bombings. Over 2,000 of them were suspicious package calls.