Q & A with a 911 Operator Tameka Cassaberry, Hostos ‘19

911 Operator, Communications Technician, NYPD and

Business Accounting Student at Lehman College

This interview was conducted by Felix Sánchez, Alumni Relations Manager on 6/5/2020, and has been edited for length and clarity.


Q: How have you been involved in the city's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and how has your role changed?

A: I'm trained to receive 911 calls. I have been doing this for about six years now. I deal with a lot of stress, and I have to make sure that I get people help as fast as possible. I would say procedure-wise, things have changed. You have to ask more questions; you have to know in any situation, “is this person positive for COVID-19?” Before, we just wanted to know what the emergency was and just got help. Now we have to be more mindful of how we go about treating the person.

We have to wear a mask when we report to work, and they do provide masks and gloves. We try to clean but there is a shortage of cleaning supplies. We don't have wipes anymore. We have a lot of 911 operators, and sometimes you may have to give your desk and headset to another operator who may have to use the same position while you're on break. If you don't have wipes to clean the desk and equipment off, you’re putting yourself and your coworker at risk. We still have to make sure that people are safe, but are we safe? To have a shortage of supplies that should be a necessity for us is really difficult.

Q: How has your job and role during the crisis impacted you personally, professionally, emotionally, and physically?

A: With what is going on right now between COVID-19 and other things that are going on in our community—especially [the protests surrounding] George Floyd’s death—it's really affected my job, and me personally. It’s affecting my children, and we’re watching it affect the entire world. It's a lot [of pressure] on me with what I do for work. I already have the stress of being a student, the stress of being a mom, and the stress of being an essential worker having to work in the middle of the pandemic. Every day that you go out, you are at risk. Now to hear people crying out for help from fire, and looting, from so many different things, on top of the issues with the coronavirus, it is really sad.

[As a personal effort], I have been making hand sanitizer and giving it out to my coworkers. Doing things like giving out hand sanitizer and seeing somebody happy from something so small, it just shows how humble people still are in a time like this. Uplifting somebody with a smile, and turning that into energy is something that I need and I think everybody needs.

Q: What advice do you have for others entering your field during a time of crisis?

A: I would tell anyone that was thinking about entering the field that it is not an easy field, but it's a wonderful responsibility. It is very difficult, and it prepares you for life—it prepares you to really appreciate life, and it prepares you to have empathy. Anybody who works in 911 should be really appreciated; they should be represented as first responders because we do an amazing job for the city. A lot of times [the work operators do] is overlooked. It is the hardest thing you may ever do in your life, but it's the most amazing opportunity in the world. I love my job.

Q: If there is a future crisis, what would you recommend based on your experience here?

A: Actually listen to what the first responders are telling you. Whether they tell you to wear your mask, wear your gloves, or stay home. I think if people had listened at the beginning when everybody said to stay home and actually protect themselves, the casualties that we have now could have been less, but people didn’t listen. I hope everybody keeps protecting each other.

Q: What have you observed of COVID-19's impact on your field, your community, your city, or nationally?

A: I've never seen anything like it in my life. I don't think any of us have seen anything like it, and this is not even something I could even imagine would happen in just an instant. I feel like our 911 system has been a bit overwhelmed, but as a city we're doing what we can to overcome with everything going on. The support that we’ve gotten from the city and from organizations who have reached out to donate few different things has been really appreciated. As far as the community itself, I've noticed that there has been a drop in the number of people reporting that they have coronavirus so that is a good thing, but I do feel like it has definitely affected us all. The world is changing. 

This Q&A has been edited for style and length.

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