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Mandatory Overtime As A 911 Dispatcher

by Michelle
(Aurora, Il)

I have worked for a large police department for 16 years. We have had a staffing shortage every single year. Currently our staffing level is at a critical level. During an average week I am pulling four 16 hour shifts. Sometimes as many as five. Our 911 center is incredibly busy. At one time these constant double shifts were not so difficult, however, as I age, I noticed that my ability to function is so bad that I am afraid to work. We handle emergency medical dispatching, foot chases, car chases, you name it. The radio traffic is constant. We have to keep track of all the officers and fire personnel.

I have been researching the effects of sleep deprivation and would love some direction if anyone can help. I would like to stop our department from mandating anyone to have to work more than 12 hours. The research is clear that one's ability to function properly is so impaired that it is a health and safety risk.
I just don't know where to go from here. I would like to approach the issue as a health and safety problem, but I need some accredited studies to take to the city.

As I sit and type this, I notice my inability to focus. I got out of work at 1030 pm last night and had to be back at work this morning again at 0630. I was not able to sleep more than 2 hours last night. When I get out of work, my mind is still racing from the previous shift, so I can never fall asleep right away. This is a problem for all of the dispatchers here, as well as the police and fire personnel we are responsible for. Not to mention the citizens of our city. I personally would not want me to be the one answering the phone when CPR is needed or there is a serious emergency.

Kevin: Hi Michelle, Thank you for writing in. Your astuteness at recognizing your own alertness limitations, and that of your colleagues/staff, is fantastic! A couple of resources come to immediate mind that may be useful for you:

Frequent guest lecturer in our Sleep and Dreams class, Mark Rosekind, helped found a company called Alertness Solutions that specializes in this kind of stuff--fatigue management in the workplace, alertness safety, limited hours and such. Their website is

Dr. Rosekind now works for the National Transportation Safety Board, only leaving Alertness Solutions when he was appointed for this position by the president. He's the first NTSB member with a sleep background, so that's a big step forward when it comes to recognizing the role fatigue plays in accidents and doing something about it, like you're after. The NTSB researches the causes of large accidents throughout the United States, and you can find some sleep-related stuff on their website as well. For example, the first aviation accident where the NTSB cited fatigue as a probable cause was a 1993 crash in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Here's a link to the slides from a presentation that Dr. Rosekind gave that mentions this and outlines some other fatigue and safety examples. He's a great lecturer, so unfortunately they only give you a small fraction of the full extent of the talk, but at least they might point you towards a thing or two that may help.

Off the top of my head, some of the professions/industries that have been most affected by fatigue accidents are aviation, hospitals, and trucking. Alertness Solutions should have a good deal of information on those on their site. Dr. Dement also writes a lot about all these industries, and more broadly about fatigue hazards and public safety consequences in the Stanford Sleep Book.


(Please keep in mind that I am a student of sleep science and not a medical doctor. Please take any thoughts I give with my background in mind.)

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Welcome! This site is continuously being created by students of Dr. William C. Dement's Sleep And Dreams course at Stanford University.

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Dr. Dement's pioneering textbook has been the core text for Sleep and Dreams since 1980, but it has just recently been made available to the wider public for the first time.

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