NEGAUNEE, Mich. (WJMN) – The Michigan State Police unveiled its new Communications Center last week at the Negaunee Post, and inside the brand-new building, among the phones, computer screens, offices and conference rooms, is a unique space designed with dispatchers in mind.
“The area in the new dispatch center is called a ‘huddle room,’ which, basically, is an area where dispatchers can go after a stressful situation or encounter, and kind of get away from where they’re working, get away into a room that’s got a lot of different things in it that will keep them calm and destress,” said Lt. Mark Giannunzio, assistant post commander at the MSP Negaunee Post.
For a 911 dispatcher, mental health can often take a back seat and be jeopardized with the nature of the calls coming into the center. Giannunzio says they’re trying to change that with the new huddle room.
“It’s something that we’ve probably not thought of 20, 30, 40 years ago. But, really, those dispatchers… they are the first responders in an incident,” said Giannunzio. “So, when somebody calls 911, it’s not a police officer that’s answering, or the EMT, or the firefighter, it’s a dispatcher sitting behind a console and they’re taking all these calls. So, we’ve kind of not thought about them and the activity and the stress that they go through after one of these incidents are over. So, with this new building, and a focus on wellness and resiliency, the decision was made to put one of these rooms in there where they could go and kind of escape from their everyday duties, especially after a stressful encounter, and just get away and destress.”
Before the huddle room, dispatchers would often still take breaks after stressful calls, but with the U.P. winters, the setting wasn’t always ideal.
“You would see the dispatcher ask for maybe a 15-minute break where they could go a walk outside. Maybe they’re walking down the street or behind the post, maybe they’re just going and sitting in their car…and that’s okay, but here’s a dedicated area where they can just get away inside that building,” said Giannunzio. “It’s very soundproof, there’s a lot of different things in there that they can look at [like] magazines, a couch that they can just relax on, [and] there’s not a lot of stimulus that’s coming into that room.”
Giannunzio said rooms like these are starting to become more common in dispatch centers. In addition to the huddle room, he said MSP has implemented a wellness and resiliency unit across the state specifically to help with mental health and resiliency of all members of the Michigan State Police.
“Those dispatchers are extremely hardworking and they’re dealing with a lot of situations all at once. So, the stress level in that building is high all the time,” said Giannunzio. “What we’re trying to do is extend their longevity. We want happy employees, we want morale to be high, just like anybody else would want that. So, we have to take care of our employees in that dispatch center as best as we can.”
The new Communications Center is located at 176 US-41 East by the MSP Negaunee Post.