Sleepover at the Sheriff! What I learned About Professional Hardships
In every job, you will have professional hardships. I had my first major one while working at the sheriff’s office. As most of you know, Central Florida was hit by Hurricane Matthew this week. I’m a dispatcher, so I’m considered part of the essential emergency staffing. This meant that, from 5:30 AM Thursday to 6:00 PM Friday, I was working and sleeping at the sheriff’s office. We were fortunate that Matthew went further east than originally predicted, and our lock down was lifted early. But I learned some very important things about work and personal life.
Before I get into that though, I want to take a moment and shout out to all of my coworkers – including
those from neighboring agencies. My living situation was pretty miserable, but it pales in comparison to those deputies and officers that were literally living in their car for days as they responded to calls when wind would briefly die down. When I left the sheriff’s office, the road patrols were still required to be on emergency staffing, meaning they didn’t get to go home. They handled their professional hardships with tact and diligence. Bravo on them all. They embody all that is right with protecting and serving.
Further, while the road units were outstanding on the road, the communications center also performed admirably. We received TRIPLE our normal 911 call volume on Friday. Not a single 911 escaped agency standards. All phones were answered in under ten seconds to keep us in line with national accreditation standards. When the going gets tough, the tough get going.
Now, onto what I learned. . .
Shower Thoughts on Professional Hardships
This first one is literally a shower thought. Our agency, in anticipation of emergency situations, has showers on multiple floors. Surprisingly, they’re actually really good showers. Not pretty, but highly functional. I was taking an incredibly hot, relaxing shower when I learned something valuable. The shower and the toilets are on the same plumbing line. The man flushing also learned this valuable lesson as he chuckled, apologized, and walked out the door. I tended to my freshly scalded skin.
The next realization is that having three to four bathrooms per floor, for more than a hundred women, goes exactly as well as you might expect it. There were lines and added frustration for much of the day. However, mornings and evenings were the high traffic times. For men, it worked pretty well.
Finally, if you’re ever called in and will be sleeping at your work for an emergency situation, don’t expect to sleep. For all 65 dispatchers called in, I think we collectively slept about 120 hours. We all tossed and turned all night. I didn’t need to be awake until 5:15 AM, but I still rolled out of my cot at 4 AM on the nose. Might as well get up if I’m not sleeping anyway.
What I learned About a Professional Career
The most important thing is to keep it light. Laughter really is the best medicine. The only thing that kept us sane was making jokes at our expense. Maybe that was the hallucinations from being awake so long, but it worked. Everything became a joke or a punchline; sensitive people, need not apply. It was camaraderie at its finest. I realized that’s the case in a lot of jobs. When you can laugh in hard times with your coworkers, you know they trust you. Always keep it light. But do your job well.
Another thing, you can still network with coworkers in spite of emergency situations. Part of this is just enjoying the company of those around you, but it’s okay to share your professional experiences and dreams. I was fortunate enough to be in the sheriff’s command center to keep the higher-ups abreast of all of the road obstructions. We were busy most of the day, but when we had time I made a point to be engaged with those around me. Yes, it was additional work. But if you’re not willing to hustle, then you’re not willing to get ahead. I probably won’t be invited to poker night anytime soon, but they will remember in the hallway. Our sheriff-elect will probably always remember when we met, because he asked me about my beard. My beard is one of the most distinguishing features on me because of its color and size. That physical branding is a huge reminder in people’s heads as to who I am. That reminder can be the difference between getting a promotion, a referral, an introduction, whatever. (Related: The Fall of Theranos: A Brand Management Study)
Another note about being in the sheriff’s command center – I was surrounded by leaders all day. My agency is incredibly lucky to have leaders, rather than supervisors. I figured I might as well take advantage of the situation. Thus, I made mental notes all day about the habits of those around me.
First and foremost, disarm the situation. By acting calm and rationale, even in an emergency, it eases tensions for everyone else. The agency has procedures for how to handle emergencies. In that respect, it’s still ‘business as usual’. It’s the leader’s job to ensure their employees know what their role is in those procedures and equip them to be successful. Another thing necessary for a true leader is the ability to take in large amounts of information at one time and siphon out the important points. The leader then must take those important points and make the correct decision. Finally, a true leader respects the value of those around them. In a room full of captains, lieutenants, and even the sheriff himself, the purpose of why myself, and my coworkers, were there was never forgotten. When it came time to lift the curfew, one of the Captains looked directly to the dispatchers in the room for information. Fortunately, I had the foresight to create a master list of every road blockage and downed power line in the county. The Captain then corroborated that information with the patrol’s on the road, and the agency was able to set up deputies at every major intersection that was down. To my knowledge, nearly everyone leaving the emergency shelters got home safely.
As you can tell, I learned a great deal during my sleepover at the sheriff’s office. For all that knowledge, it’s still an experience I hope I never duplicate. I do want to share one final thing with everyone. I got weak in my duties. Swamped with work – I had a radio channel, I was keeping up the master list of blockages, and I was the liaison to get those blockages to the emergency management team – it was tempting to quit. I spent most of my 12 hours working at a frantic pace. My supervisors saw how tired I was on my break and asked if I wanted to switch with someone else. Initially, I said yes and my supervisors found someone to take my place. However, in the time it took them to find someone I realized something important. The person coming to trade jobs with me has been working too. I did perceive the other job to be ‘less work’, but I was given the job I had for a reason. Ultimately, I sent the message to my supervisor that I wasn’t going to switch and rather hold out and finish my duties. I mean really, I was still warm, safe, and (compared to the units on the road) relatively comfortable.
I say all of that to reiterate an important point. Do your job. Do your job well. People are relying on you for that simple task. That goes for regular duties and work emergencies. Professional hardships are a constant in every, single job. Don’t shirk your responsibilities. And in time of dire stress, like my agency was placed in this week, don’t think you’re any less tired than anyone around you. Everyone is a single unit in a bigger machine. I’m glad I realized that lesson before I swapped duties. I ended up filling out the rest of my shift, where I was originally stationed, and felt proud of what everyone had accomplished. I’m pretty sure I would have been left with regret had I switched.