New technology, from text messaging to streaming video, is beginning to change the way we summon help. The University of Washington School of Public Health recently received a four-year $1.8 million grant to investigate the impact these new digital technologies will have on 911 call center workers. The award is from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Emergency call centers across the country are or soon will be converting to systems that allow people in distress to contact call centers by SMS, email, Skype, photo uploads, and other ways,” said Dr. Hendrika Meischke, professor of health services and co-principal investigator for the grant. “The new technologies could have an impact that is very dramatic. Not only will call center workers have to learn to handle the new technology, they will have to cope with potentially traumatic graphic images.”
Researchers—including Dr. Janet Baseman, co-PI and associate professor of epidemiology; Dr. Ian Painter, clinical assistant professor of health services; Dr. Randall Beaton, research professor emeritus; and Dr. Michelle Lilly, assistant professor psychology at Northern Illinois University—will examine whether the new technologies reduce job performance and increase stress. In addition, the study will investigate the impact of special trainings designed to help employees cope with added stress.
“Call receivers have incredibly stressful, difficult, and unbelievably important jobs,” said Ms. Debra Revere, a research scientist with the School’s Northwest Center for Public Health Practice. “They’re tethered to their telephones and their screens. Technological change will add even more demands.”