CENTRAL ILLINOIS (WCIA) — Communities have given thunderous applause to health care workers and first responders and others on the “front lines” of the pandemic. This week officials want you to put your hands together for the people working behind the scenes of every emergency in your community.

When you call 911 for an emergency, you expect to see the flashing lights of police, ambulance, or fire vehicles. During Public Safety Telecommunicators Week, it is all about who you hear on the other end of your phone call.

“They are often very invisible workers,” said Betsy Smith, METCAD Operations Manager. “No one often sees them responding to the house. No one sees them out in the public or in a car that’s very recognizable.” METCAD is Champaign County’s 911 dispatch organization.

Smith said dispatchers may not be on the front lines, so to speak, but with COVID-19 they are now serving as a first line of defense. “In the past, we’ve never really had to consider someone’s health as we’ve approached a police problem. And even for our high priority calls, it’s a question that we still ask, is about the health of the people that are involved in the police problem, just so we can get the first responders a little bit more information before they get into that call situation.” Smith said since the stay-at-home order started, their emergency call volume went down. But times are just as stressful, if not even more so, for a dispatcher because accuracy and timeliness are just as crucial.

So it means a lot, especially now, to have a week devoted to the public safety workers who are heard, but not seen. “I think the community’s been really great about the fact that we are the central personnel, that we are the first first responders.” Public Safety Telecommunicators Week has been around since the 1980s. Champaign County has been honoring it for the past several years.