Assessment of Stress and Resiliency in Emergency Dispatchers

  • Bryan Steinkopf
  • Ryan A. Reddin
  • Ryan A. Black
  • Vincent B. Van Hasselt
  • Judy Couwels


Although they are technically the first responders on most critical incidents, emergency dispatchers have received a modicum of attention from researchers and clinicians. The purpose of the present study was to evaluate job-related stress, psychological distress, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), stress resiliency, and posttraumatic growth in this high-risk group. These areas were evaluated via an assessment battery administered to 90 emergency dispatchers working in a law enforcement agency. Results showed that dispatchers experienced an average amount of occupational stress, with 24% of the current sample reporting significant job stress. Between 13.34 and 15.56% reported symptoms consistent with a PTSD diagnosis, and 16.67% indicated sub-threshold PTSD symptomatology. The findings revealed that, overall, dispatchers experience occupational stress, psychological distress, and sub-threshold PTSD at similar or higher rates compared to police officers. Further, dispatchers reported posttraumatic growth at an average rate, also similar to that reported by police officers. Clinical implications of the results are discussed. Suggestions for directions that future research might take are offered.


Dispatchers Posttraumatic stress disorder Occupational stress Law enforcement 



This project was funded by a $2,000 grant received from the Chancellor’s Faculty and Research Development Grant through Nova Southeastern University. This funding was used to compensate participants in the form of a $20 gift card to a local charity.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional research committee at Nova Southeastern University and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study. No identifying information was used for any participants in the study.


  1. Adams G, Buck J (2010) Social stressors and strain among police officers: it’s not just the bad guys. Crim Justice Behav 37(9):1030–1040. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Alderden M, Skogan WC (2012) The place of civilians in policing. Policing 37(2):259–284. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. American Psychiatric Association (1994) Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, 4th edn. American Psychiatric Association, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  4. American Psychiatric Association (2013) Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, 5th edn. American Psychiatric Association, Washington, DC. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Andrew ME, McCanlies EC, Burchfield CM, Charles LE, Harley TA, Fekedulegn D, Violanti JM (2008) Hardiness and psychological distress in a cohort of police officers. Int J Emerg Mental Health 10:137–148Google Scholar
  6. Anshel MH, Umscheid D, Brinthaupt TM (2013) Effect of combined coping skills and wellness program on perceived stress and physical energy among police emergency dispatchers: an exploratory study. J Police Crim Psychol 28(1):1–14. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Arbogast K (1989) Relief for the frazzled dispatcher. Law Enforcement Technology, pp 30–39Google Scholar
  8. Bajaj B, Pande N (2016) Mediating role of resilience in the impact of mindfulness on life satisfaction and affect as indices of subjective well-being. Personal Individ Differ 93:63–67. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Barrett RF (1985) The effectiveness of a cognitive behavioral intervention program in remediating symptoms of stress in a police communication center, Dissertation Abstracts International, 46/06-BGoogle Scholar
  10. Bartone PT (1999) Hardiness protects against war-related stress in army reserve forces. Consult Psychol J 51(2):72–82. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Bartone PT (2007) Test-retest reliability of the dispositional resilience scale-15: a brief hardiness scale. Psychol Rep 101(3):943–944. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. Beck AX, Ward CH, Mendelson M, Mock J, Erbaugh J (1961) An inventory for measuring depression. Arch Gen Psychiatry 4:561–571CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Benight CC (2012) Understanding human adaptation to traumatic stress exposure: beyond the medical model. Psychol Trauma 4(1):1–8. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Blankenship B (1990) Dispatching units: improvements for the “first line.” FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin 59:12–13Google Scholar
  15. Bood S, Archer T, Norlander T (2004) Affective personality in relation to general personality, self-reported stress, coping, and optimism. Individ Differ Res 2:26–37Google Scholar
  16. Brandenburg JA (1988) Dispatchers as professionals. APCO Bulletin, May, 26–27Google Scholar
  17. Brunet A, Weiss DS, Metzler TJ, Best SR, Neylan TC, Rogers C, Fagan J, Marmar CR (2001) The peritraumatic distress inventory: a proposed measure of PTSD criterion A2. Am J Psychiatry 158(9):1480–1485. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. Brunet A, Sanche S, Manetti A, Aouizerate B, Ribereau-Gayon R, Charpentier S, Birmes P, Arbus C (2013) Peritraumatic distress but not dissociation predicts posttraumatic stress disorder in the elderly. Int Psychogenic Assoc 25:1007–1012. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Burke TW (1991) The relationship between dispatcher stress and social support, job satisfaction, and locus of control (volumes I and II). U.M.I, Ann ArborGoogle Scholar
  20. Burke TW (1995) Dispatcher stress. FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, October, 1–6Google Scholar
  21. Couwels J (2015) Room to breathe. Unpublished training manual); Broward County Sheriff’s Office, Fort Lauderdale FloridaGoogle Scholar
  22. Crowne DP, Marlowe D (1960) A new scale of social desirability independent of psychopathology. J Consult Psychol 24(4):349–354. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. Cukor J, Wyka K, Jayasinghe N, Difede J (2010) The nature and course of subthreshold PTSD. J Anxiety Disord 24(8):918–923. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. Davis JB (2005) Finding calm after the call. ABA J 91:75Google Scholar
  25. Derogatis LR (1992) BSI: administration, scoring and procedures manual – II. Clinical Psychometric Research, BaltimoreGoogle Scholar
  26. Derogatis LR, Melisaratos N (1983) The brief symptom inventory: an introductory report. Psychol Med 13(03):595–605. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  27. Derogatis LR, Lipman RS, Rickels K, Uhlenhuth EH, Covi L (1974) The Hopkins symptom checklist (HSCL): a self-report symptom inventory. Behav Sci 19(1):1–15. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. deTerte I, Stephens C, Huddleston L (2014) The development of a three-part model of psychological resilience. Stress Health 30(5):416–424. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Doerner WG (1987) Police dispatcher stress. J Police Sci Adm 15:257–261Google Scholar
  30. Everly GS, Welzant V, Jacobson JM (2006) Resistance and resilience: the final frontier in traumatic stress management. Int J Emerg Mental Health 10:261–270Google Scholar
  31. Fay J, Kamena MD, Benner A, Buscho A (2006) A residential milieu treatment approach for first-responder trauma. Traumatology 12(3):255–262. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Forslund K, Kihlgren A, Kihlgren M (2004) Operator’s experiences of emergency calls. J Telemed Telecare 10:290–297CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  33. Furr RM, Bacharach VR (2013) Psychometrics: an introduction. Sage, Los AngelesGoogle Scholar
  34. Gershon RRM, Barocas B, Canton AN, Li X, Vlahov D (2009) Mental, physical, and behavioral outcomes associated with perceived work stress in police officers. Crim Justice Behav 36(3):275–289. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Gibson CL, Swatt ML, Jolicoeur JR (2001) Assessing the generality of general strain theory: the relationship among occupational stress experienced by male police officers and domestic violence forms of violence. J Crime Justice 24(2):29–57. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Grizzle RW (2009) Occupational stress, dietary self-efficacy, eating habits and body composition in police officers. (Doctoral Dissertation). Retrieved from
  37. Grubaugh AL, Magruder KM, Waldrop AE, Elhai JD, Knapp RG, Frueh BC (2005) Subthreshold PTSD in primary care: prevalence, psychiatric disorders, healthcare use, and functional status. J Nerv Ment Dis 193(10):658–664. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  38. Gurevich M, Halpern J, Brazeau P, Schwartz B (2007) Frontline Stress behind the scenes: Emergency medical dispatchers. Paper presented to the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials, Toronto, Tech. RepGoogle Scholar
  39. Hartley TA, Violanti JM, Sarkisian K, Andrew ME, Burchfiel CM (2013) PTSD symptoms among police officers: associations with frequency, recency, and types of traumatic events. Int J Emerg Mental Health Human Resilience 15(4):241–253Google Scholar
  40. Haugen PT, Evces M, Weiss DS (2012) Treating posttraumatic stress disorder in first responders: a systematic review. Clin Psychol Rev 32(5):370–380. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  41. Holt FX (1989) Dispatchers’ hidden critical incidents. Fire engineering, November, 53–55Google Scholar
  42. Horowitz MJ, Wilner N, Alvarez W (1979) Impact of event scale: a measure of subjective stress. Psychosom Med 41(3):209–218. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  43. IBM Corp. Released (2013) IBM SPSS statistics for windows, version 22.0. IBM Corp, ArmonkGoogle Scholar
  44. Jarero I, Amaya C, Givaudin M, Miranda A (2013) EMDR individual protocol for paraprofessional use: a randomized controlled trial with first responders. J EMDR Pract Res 7(2):55–64. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Jenkins CD (1976) Recent evidence supporting psychologic and social risk factors for coronary disease. N Engl J Med 294(18):987–994. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  46. Jin-Feng Z, Pin-Liang Z, Zhan-Biao S, Li W, Wen-zhong W (2012) Relationship between post-traumatic symptoms, life satisfaction and positive affect, negative affect in survivors after the Yushu earthquake. Chin Mental Health J 26:247–251Google Scholar
  47. Kamena MD, Gentz D, Hays V, Bohl-Penrod N, Greene LW (2011) Peer support teams fill an emotional void in law enforcement agencies. Police Chief 78:80–84Google Scholar
  48. Kessler RC, Chiu WT, Demler O, Walters EE (2005) Prevalence, severity, and comorbidity of 12-month DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Arch Gen Psychiatry 62(6):617–627. CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  49. Kirmeyer SL (1984) Observing the work of police dispatchers: work overload in service organizations. Appl Soc Psychol Annu 5:45–66Google Scholar
  50. Kirmeyer SL (1988) Coping with competing demands: interruption and the type A pattern. J Appl Psychol 73(4):621–629. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  51. Kirmeyer SL, Dougherty TW (1988) Work load, tension and coping: moderating effects of supervisor support. Pers Psychol 41(1):125–139. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Kleinbaum DG, Kupper LL, Nizam A, Muller KE (2008) Applied regression analysis and multivariable methods, 4th edn. Duxbury Press, BelmontGoogle Scholar
  53. Ksionzky S, Mehrabian T (1986) Temperament characteristics of successful police dispatchers: work settings requiring continuous rapid judgments and responses to complex information. J Police Sci Adm 14:45–48Google Scholar
  54. Kunst MJJ (2011) Affective personality type, post-traumatic stress disorder symptom severity and post-traumatic growth in victims of violence. Stress Health 27(1):42–51. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Lating JM, Bono SF (2008) Crisis intervention and fostering resiliency. Int J Emerg Mental Health 10:87–94Google Scholar
  56. Levenson RL, O’Hara AF, Clark R Sr (2010) The badge of life psychological survival for police officers program. Int J Emerg Mental Health 12:95–102Google Scholar
  57. Liberman AM, Best SR, Metzler TJ, Fagan JA, Weiss DS, Marmar CR (2002) Routine occupational stress and psychological distress in police. Policing 25(2):421–439. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Martin TN, Burks N (1984) Predictors of organizational commitment: the study of part-time army reservists. J Vocat Behav 25(3):270–283. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Maslach C (1982) Burnout: the cost of caring. Prentice Hall, Englewood CliffsGoogle Scholar
  60. Maslach C, Jackson SE (1981) Maslach burnout inventory. Consulting Psychologists Press, CaliforniaGoogle Scholar
  61. Masten AS, Cutuli JJ, Herbers JE, Reed MJ (2009) Resilience in development. In: Snyder CR, Lopez SJ (eds) The Oxford handbook of positive psychology, 2nd edn. Oxford, New York, pp 117–132Google Scholar
  62. May CL, Wisco BE (2016) Defining trauma: how level of exposure and proximity affect risk for posttraumatic stress disorder. Psychol Trauma 8(2):233–240. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  63. McCanlies EC, Mnatsakanova A, Andrew ME, Burchfiel CM, Violanti JM (2014) Positive psychological factors are associated with lower PTSD symptoms among police officers: post hurricane Katrina. Stress Health 30(2):405–415. CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  64. McCarty WP, Skogan WG (2012) Job-related burnout among civilian and sworn police personnel. Police Q 16:66–84CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. McLaughlin KA, Koenen KC, Friedman MJ, Ruscio AM, Karam EG, Shahly V, Stein DJ, Hill ED, Petukhova M, Alonso J, Andrade LH, Angermeyer MC, Borges G, de Girolamo G, de Graaf R, Demyttenaere K, Florescu SE, Mladenova M, Posada-Villa J, Scott KM, Takeshima T, Kessler RC (2015) Subthreshold posttraumatic stress disorder in the World Health Organization world mental health surveys. Soc Biol Psychiatry 77(4):375–384. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Menard KS, Arter ML (2013) Police officer alcohol use and trauma symptoms: associations with critical incidents, coping, and social stressors. Int J Stress Manag 20(1):37–56. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Metts GA (2012) A quantitative examination whether education mitigates stress levels among law enforcement officers (doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from (201418594)
  68. Miller L (2006) Practical police psychology: stress management and crisis intervention for law enforcement. Thomas Books, SpringfieldGoogle Scholar
  69. Miller L (2008) Stress and resiliency in law enforcement training and practice. Int J Emerg Mental Health 10(2):109–124Google Scholar
  70. Mitani S, Fujita M, Nakata K, Shirakawa T (2006) Impact of posttraumatic stress disorder and job-related stress on burnout: a study of fire service workers. J Emerg Med 31(1):7–11. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  71. Norwood PJ (2008) Front of the line. Fire Chief 52:58–60Google Scholar
  72. Oliver WM, Meier C (2009) Considering the efficacy of stress management training on small-town and rural police. Appl Psychol Crim Justice 5:1–25Google Scholar
  73. Paton D, Johnston P, Clarke J, Violanti JM, Burke KJ, Keenan D (2008) Stress shield: a model of police resiliency. Int J Emerg Mental Health 10(2):95–108Google Scholar
  74. Patterson GT, Chung IW, Swan PW (2014) Stress management interventions for police officers and recruits: a meta-analysis. J Exp Criminol 10(4):487–513. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Payne DM (1993) Role disequilibrium among police dispatchers. Police Stud 16:99–112Google Scholar
  76. Pierce H, Lilly MM (2012) Duty-related trauma exposure in 911 telecommunicators: considering the risk for posttraumatic stress. J Trauma Stress 25(2):1–5. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Pietrzak RH, Goldstein RB, Southwick SM, Grant BF (2011) Prevalence and axis I comorbidity of full and partial posttraumatic stress disorder in the United States: results from wave 2 of the national epidemiologic survey on alcohol and related conditions. J Anxiety Disord 25(3):456–465. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  78. Quinn RP, Shepard L (1974) The 1972–73 quality of employment survey. University of Michigan Survey Research Center, Ann ArborGoogle Scholar
  79. Regehr C, LeBlanc VR, Barath I, Balch J, Birze A (2013) Predictors of physiological stress and psychological distress in police communicators. Police Pract Res 14(6):451–463. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Roberg RR, Hayhurst DL, Allen HE (1988) Job burnout in law enforcement dispatchers: a comparative analysis. J Crim Just 16(5):385–393. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Roland JE (2011) Developing and maintaining successful peer support programs in law enforcement organizations. In: Kitaef J (ed) Handbook of police psychology. Routledge, New York, pp 421–436Google Scholar
  82. Ruggiero KJ, Del Ben K, Scotti J, Rabalais A (2003) Psychometric properties of the PTSD checklist-civilian version. J Trauma Stress 16(5):495–502. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  83. Scully PJ (2011) Taking care of staff: a comprehensive model of support for paramedics and emergency medical dispatchers. Traumatology 17(4):35–42. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. Sewell JD, Crew L (1984) The forgotten victim: stress and the police dispatcher. FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, March, 7–11Google Scholar
  85. Shane JM (2010) Organizational stressors and police performance. J Crim Just 38(4):807–818. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  86. Sommer SA, Howell JM, Hadley CN (2016) Keeping positive and building strength: the role of affect and team leadership in developing resilience during an organizational crisis. Group Org Manag 41(2):172–202. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  87. Spielberger CD (1991) Preliminary test manual for the job stress survey (JSS). Psychological Assessment Resources, OdessaGoogle Scholar
  88. Spielberger CD, Vagg PR (1999) Job stress survey: professional manual. Psychological Assessment Resources, OdessaGoogle Scholar
  89. Spielberger CD, Gorsuch RL, Lushene RE (1970) Manual for the state-trait anxiety inventory. Consulting Psychologists Press, Palo AltoGoogle Scholar
  90. Stevens JP (2002) Applied multivariate statistics for the social sciences, 4th edn. Lawrence Erlbaum, Mahwah, pp 159–161Google Scholar
  91. Tedeschi RG, Calhoun LG (1996) The posttraumatic growth inventory: measuring the positive legacy of trauma. J Trauma Stress 9(3):455–471. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  92. Territo L, Vetter HJ (1981) Stress and police personnel. J Police Sci Adm 9:195–207Google Scholar
  93. Torres RM, Lawyer RG, Lambert MD (2009) Job-related stress among secondary agricultural education teachers: a comparison study. J Agric Educ 50(3):100–111. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  94. Vila B (2006) Impact of long work hours on police officers and the communities they serve. Am J Ind Med 49:972980CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  95. Vincent N (2015) Behavioral wellness training for emergency dispatchers. In: Unpublished training manual. Nova Southeastern University, Davie, FloridaGoogle Scholar
  96. Violanti JM, Robinson CF, Shen R (2013) Law enforcement suicide: a national analysis. Int J Emerg Mental Health Hum Resilience 15:289–298Google Scholar
  97. Vreven DL, Gudanowski DM, King LA, King DW (1995) The civilian version of the Mississippi scale: a psychometric evaluation. J Trauma Stress 8(1):91–09. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  98. Watson D, Clark LA, Tellegen A (1988) Development and validation of brief measures of positive and negative affect: the PANAS scales. J Pers Soc Psychol 54(6):1063–1070. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  99. Weathers F (1993, 2015) PTSD Checklist (PCL) Retrieved March 19, 2016, from
  100. Weathers FW, Litz BT, Huska JA, Keane TM (1991) The PTSD checklist (PCL). National Center for PTSD, Boston VA Medical Center, BostonGoogle Scholar
  101. Weibel L, Gabrion I, Aussedat M, Kreutz G (2003) Work-related stress in an emergency medical dispatch center. Ann Emerg Med 41(4):500–507. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  102. Yarvis JS, Schiess L (2008) Subthreshold posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a predictor or depression, alcohol use, and health problems in veterans. J Work Behav Health 23(4):395–424. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  103. Zimmering R, Gulliver SB, Knight J, Munroe J, Keane TM (2006) Posttraumatic stress disorder in disaster relief workers following direct and indirect trauma exposure to ground zero. J Trauma Stress 19(4):553–557. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  104. Zlotnick C, Franklin CL, Zimmerman M (2002) Does “subthreshold” posttraumatic stress disorder have clinical relevance? Compr Psychiatry 43(6):413–419. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  105. Zoellner T, Maercker A (2006) Posttraumatic growth in clinical psychology: a critical review and introduction of a two component model. Clin Psychol Rev 26(5):626–653. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Society for Police and Criminal Psychology 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.College of PsychologyNova Southeastern UniversityFort LauderdaleUSA
  2. 2.Employee Assistance ProgramBroward Sheriff’s OfficeFort LauderdaleUSA

Personalised recommendations