Smith makes sure help’s on the way
Published on Tuesday, January 17, 2023
By: Ruth Cummins, email@example.com
Photos By: Melanie Thortis/ UMMC Communications
When someone tells Nancy Smith what’s wrong, she calmly makes it her business to get whatever help is needed on the way.
As a state-certified emergency dispatcher for the University of Mississippi Medical Center’s Police and Public Safety Department, she’s on the front lines of law enforcement – literally.
“If anything is going around or happening on campus, even if someone calls 911, it comes to us first,” said Smith, a Carthage resident who on Feb. 14 celebrates her sixth anniversary at the Medical Center. “They tell us what’s wrong, and if we need to, we stay on the phone with them until help arrives.”
Smith works a 12-hour shift, taking calls that run the gamut, from humorous to serious to opportunities for good customer service.
“An elderly lady came some time back to visit a patient,” Smith remembered. “She sent her child up to see the patient, and when the child didn’t come back down, she panicked. It turned out that he was having trouble finding his way back.
“I stayed on the phone with her until we found her child. I helped her to remain calm.”
Smith knows that any call, whatever the need, must be handled with care and an eye toward what could happen in a matter of minutes or seconds. It’s a dispatcher’s job, she said, to make decisions that can shape the rest of the day when they dispatch officers across campus.
“As one of the first people you’ll speak to when calling the UMMC PD, Nancy’s smile can be heard through the phone line,” said her supervisor, Capt. Jenn Krump. “Her sunny attitude plays a critical role in making everyone’s experience at UMMC a little easier and a little lighter.
“She finds value in her role of furthering the UMMC PD’s mission of providing a safe environment for all of our students, staff, patients and visitors, and she treats everyone with empathy, respect and dignity.”
“We get calls about people who are upset and yelling,” Smith said. “We get there pretty fast, and we can contain it pretty fast. We are fortunate that we haven’t had to deal with a lot of gun violence, but we have a lot of drills on what we would do, and how we would approach the situation.”
Safeguards are built into the campus as a workplace, she said, including panic buttons in some locations that employees can push if there’s a threat and connect with dispatch. “When someone hits it, we keep the sound alive during that time. We can hear what’s happening in the background, and I dispatch that to officers,” she said. “We want to know if people have items in their hands so that our officers can be aware.”
Smith “is always learning and strives to become better every day and on every call,” Krump said. “All of our dispatchers understand they are the conduit of information between the callers and our officers and play a vital role in campus safety and security every day.”
It's inevitable, though, that Smith and other dispatchers will take a few calls that are just plain funny. “Sometimes, they just need you to talk to them,” Smith said.
She remembers the call from a patient who told her that she hadn’t been “able to go” for the better part of two weeks. “She said if they’d just bring her some medicine, she’d be able to, but that her nurses weren’t listening to her,” Smith said.
Smith’s life is just as busy outside the workplace. A single mom with one child, she adopted her sister’s three children following her untimely death.
“I have two girls and two boys,” she said. “I do a lot of working out in my spare time. I have four beautiful children to live for now. They depend on me.”
She is their hero – and a hero to herself. After her weight topped 300 pounds, she had an epiphany. Today she’s 100 pounds lighter, a feat that took a little over a year.
“I went to Backyard Burgers for lunch one day, and I upped my burger and fries to the largest I could get,” she remembered. “My phone died, and the screen went black. I saw my reflection in the screen. I could see myself snacking on my food, and I didn’t like what I saw.
“I took the food and threw it in the garbage.”
She enjoys her job, Smith said, because it brings her in contact with so many people.
“I’m a caring person. I really enjoy people,” said Smith, who worked as a corrections officer and dispatcher before coming to UMMC.
“It’s so good to know that at the end of the day, you brought everyone home safe that you work with, and that you made some people’s day a lot better,” she said. “I love it.”
Anyone who needs UMMC police for an emergency on campus can call 911 or 5-7777 from a campus land line, or (601) 815-7777 from a cell phone. For non-emergencies, call (601) 984-1360.
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