The Collaborative Production of Responses and Dispatching on the Radio: Video Analysis in a Medical Emergency Call Center
What happens when someone rings an emergency hotline for help? How is the emergency handled? How does the emergency service swing into action? Prompt and competent intervention and assessment of the gravity of the situation in a few crucial seconds: these are the quality standards that regulate the organization of emergency operations centers. For a number of years various groups of social science researchers have carried forward a program for the systematic study of work using ethnographic and naturalistic methods of analysis. An interest in work is certainly nothing new in the social sciences, and in sociology in particular. What is new, though, is the particular analytical viewpoint from which such research is now conducted. This program has dispensed with large-scale theorization and has concentrated on the empirical study of activities and practices, achieving an unprecedented level of detail and analytical fineness. Indeed, only by proceeding at this fine level of detail—made possible by the use of videorecordings—has it been possible to document the extraordinary and subtle collaborative production of work, and to do so at a level which extends well beyond the conscious awareness of people in their everyday routine. This aspect concerns in particular the capacity of the latest generation of studies of work to document the tacit procedures and forms of common-sense reasoning involved in the performance of tasks in concrete work settings. This paper focuses on the ways in which the dispatch is done in a medical emergency operation center. Although we know a great deal about the interaction between caller and call-taker from previous research, we know much less about the social organization that makes the dispatch possible. The data analyzed in this paper derive from a research project in which I have been engaged for a number of years on operation centers for the 118 emergency telephone number in Italy. Contrasting the data obtained from audiorecording with the data obtained from videorecording, I will show that a dispatch does not consist purely in information transfer, but is the outcome of intense coordination work among the actors involved face to face and through the mediation of technological apparatus.
emergency; collaboration; dispatch centers; video analysis; radio communication