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July 2, 2013

Dispatchers honored for role in Newtown response

(Continued)

HARTFORD, Conn. —

The center has staff of 10 people, including Will, who said they had received active-shooter training only the month before the tragedy and put it to work by keeping their composure during the ordeal. It has been recognized with honors, and communications offices across the country sent flowers and cards to the center.

"It was the worst day of our lives, but professionally, it was the best day because we did what had to be done," she said.

Among the honors was the Outstanding 911 Call Center Award, presented in March in Washington. U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy said at the time that the center deserves the award because its staff "remained composed and resolute while handling some of the most horrifying emergency calls imaginable, managing the emergency response, and keeping the community informed."

What exactly was said on the emergency calls, however, is unknown to the public; the 911 recordings have not been released. The prosecutor leading the investigation into the massacre, Danbury State's Attorney Stephen Sedensky III, has argued that releasing the calls could jeopardize the ongoing probe. The Associated Press is asking the state Freedom of Information commission for the recordings to be released.

With personal connections to both police and victims, dispatchers in small communities like Newtown are vulnerable to the same kind of emotional trauma experienced by those on the scene of a tragedy, said Fran Roberts, a clinical psychologist in Marlton, N.J. who offers stress management services to first responders.

"One of the things that makes trauma worse is the sense of helplessness," she said. "Because of the nature of the dispatching job, they are being held back except for passing information along."

Will said there have been some emotional struggles, and anybody who needed time off has been given time off.

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