published Monday, May 2nd, 2011

Case of the sleepy dispatchers

There has been understandable nationwide alarm over recently discovered cases of air traffic controllers at major airports sleeping on the job. No planes have crashed, fortunately, but in some cases, the sleeping controllers were the only ones on duty!

In a somewhat similar situation in nearby Murray County, Ga., two 911 dispatchers are no longer employed in that capacity, government records show, after they allegedly fell asleep repeatedly while on the job. (Wisely, the county does not have 911 dispatchers work alone.)

In one of the cases, two calls from a medic unit went unanswered. A video later showed a dispatcher seemingly asleep. One dispatcher evidently fell asleep on four consecutive nights.

One worker has been fired. A second has resigned after learning she likely would be fired.

We greatly appreciate police, medical workers, rescue personnel, 911 dispatchers and others who perform their difficult duties conscientiously — at whatever time of the day.

But overnight work — including the 12-hour shifts that dispatchers in Murray County put in — clearly is not for everyone. Even a responsible employee might become drowsy from time to time.

So it is obvious that late shifts in sensitive public safety positions should be reserved for those who are capable of meeting the physical demands of such work. That can literally mean the difference between life and death.

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