Santa Monica’s Emergency Operations Center Series – Judy Delgado
March 18, 2021 5:00 PM
by Judith Delgado, Erin Taylor
The COVID-19 Public Health Emergency was declared on March 13, 2020. Once a public health emergency is declared, cities activate an Emergency Operations Center to quickly mobilize staff and resources to best meet the immediate and then ongoing needs of the community throughout the emergency. For the COVID-19 emergency, staff have been reassigned from their day-to-day duties to critical roles to ensure the City prioritizes the community’s public health and minimizes the risks of COVID-19 exposures at every step. The team reviews the state, regional, and local situation status daily and pivots their focus regularly based on the highest community needs or new information received from the LA County Department of Public Health or the State of California.
EOC efforts include proactive and reactive measures to ensure our community prevents as many COVID-19 infections as possible and reopens programs in a safe way. Examples of EOC outreach include:
- Outreach to residents and businesses to ensure the health order is implemented correctly
- Implementation of a COVID-19 Hotline throughout the pandemic to answer public questions
- Coordination with LA County on food distribution sites
- Creation of a health ambassador program to distribute face coverings and in-person health information, and
- Ongoing collaboration with non-profit and community partners to ensure they have the latest information.
The work is challenging but meaningful, and while we remain in the midst of hard times, we are now looking toward reopening including vaccination efforts and long-term economic recovery. For a look behind the scenes of the City of Santa Monica Emergency Operations Center and to meet some of our staff who have been supporting the entire community throughout this public health emergency, stay tuned to the City’s Blog all this month as we feature many of our staff who have played an important role throughout the public health emergency continuing with Judy Delgado, COVID-19 Hotline Customer Service.
Judy Delgado, COVID-19 Hotline Customer Service
What is your role in the City of Santa Monica Emergency Operations Center?
During COVID-19, I’m one of the voices you'll hear on the other line when you call the City regarding either COVID-19 information, resources, and/or need assistance from a department within the city. Normally, I am a 9-1-1 Dispatcher under our Office of Emergency Management and one of the voices you’ll hear on the other line when someone is in need of emergency help for Police, Fire, or EMS.
What is your background, and how have you prepared to take on this role?
I’m a people person. I believe I work my best under stress, hence why I'm normally a 9-1-1 dispatcher. Customer service is what I feel has helped me be a helpful resource to the city this past year and over the last six years as a dispatcher. When this all started, people were in panic and confused. This is something that hit everyone hard and fast.
Just like dispatch we don’t ever know what is coming. We stay ready, calm, professional, and determine what the best course of action will be once we evaluate the situation. Here on the hotline team, we’re information gatherers and then we share all the valuable information we received so the appropriate help that’s needed is provided. All this had to be done fast and efficiently. It takes a great team to make that happen, and we have that here in Santa Monica. Like they say, “Team work makes the dream work.”
What is a typical week for you in the Emergency Operations Center?
We are the front line, very similar to dispatching. We usually are the first to talk to the public either through the phone or through email. People need assistance from someone. We find that someone for them.
We triage calls from almost every department within the city: Police, Fire, Code Enforcement, Parking, City Attorney, City Manager, City Clerk, Housing, Building & Safety, Planning, Resource & Recycling, Community Services, the Library, Rent Control, Big Blue Bus, etc. We also guide people through information, resources for businesses, County testing and vaccine sites for appointments, rental assistance as well as information regarding the eviction moratorium. Many inquiries also come through email that we respond to and or forward to the appropriate departments for particular assistance and most up to date and accurate information.
What’s it like to play this critical role for over a year?
I’ll be honest. It was a huge challenge for me. Prior to COVID-19, I was ill and going through all doctors appointments, medications, work, family, etc. and then the pandemic hitting head on was nothing easy to handle. We had to step up even if that meant working for the first time remotely. It was all about multi-tasking.
I recently lost my brother to COVID-19. Dealing with that has been the biggest challenge yet. Some days have been harder than others especially while working and talking to people, but I always go back to my role as a 9-1-1 dispatcher. No matter how bad our days are people are depending on us to do our job. Especially during these times when the information changes daily, even at times 2-3 times a day. Every state, county and city needs someone, a team that can relay this information to the public and be available to answer their questions.
I find it very rewarding talking to the public and even at times sharing my own experience to better educate the public during these times so they know that we empathize with peoples struggles and experiences. We are human just like them and are trying our best. Maintaining that professionalism and good customer service at all times is what makes everything go smoother. All people need and want guidance and some security that the ones up top know what they are doing.
Why do you do this work?
Because I love what I do. I became a dispatcher to help people. I always told myself that if my family were to call 9-1-1, I would want someone to answer the phone who was professional, empathetic, helpful and truly listened. Every day I work hard—here in the hotline and for when I go back to my normal role—to be the best that I can be. The common denominator doesn’t change: people. I may not be doing the same thing that I was doing right now, but my skills are the same.
What has been the most surprising?
I feel this whole experience has been an eye opener. How everyone responds and communicates during an emergency can either make or break a community. Preparation is key and how fast people adapt and cooperate. I realized that many people choose email as a form of communication. The Santa Monica City website has been such a helpful tool to let people know that no matter what their concerns are, they are heard. People really responded well with use of those tools and technology.
What has been the most challenging?
Everyone no matter your race, gender, occupation or age felt the panic of this Pandemic. Finding the way to calm the public during times with no answers was difficult. At times it was a waiting game. People want answers, guidance and comfort. We wanted to provide that to the public. A year later we still talk to people that have only left their home a handful of times, have no internet or form of transportation. Although we get calls coming through you still take a bit more time with those that need just someone to talk to. Sometimes a conversation starts off a bit escalated, you get yelled at, you feel the frustration, then you start talking, you share a laugh and maybe even a cry. The other person on the line feels heard and you say goodbye. It’s not personal. We are all going through it. It’s all about communication.
What has been the most heartwarming?
People who truly appreciate that you are a live person that they can talk to. When they thank you for taking the time to actually talk to them.
Are there any fun facts about Santa Monica’s EOC?
The Santa Monica Hotline team has answered 7,824 calls and 3,987 emails throughout the emergency.
What do you want the public to know right now?
The media doesn’t show every single experience or detail of what is happening. Like I share with people on the phone all the time: this is something that has made history. It has definitely changed my life forever with losing my baby brother at a young age of 27 years old. Super healthy and full of energy. This year has been frustrating, sad, confusing and at times full of panic. This isn’t over and is very much real. Working together as a community is so important. Patience is important.
We must learn to work together. I have spoken with many, many people, thousands to be exact ranging from every possible emotion you can think of. All have had one thing in common: fear. Fear of getting sick, fear of losing something, fear of the unknown. Please take this seriously is all I ask and know that you are not alone.
I know that may not sound the most “positive” but it is real. I come from a background of nothing short of being real. I invite anyone into a 911 call center and see if there’s anything short of being real real. But that’s why we do what we do, we are the calm I midst of the chaos.
Please continue to social distance, wear your facial covering, get some fresh air, exercise and keep your mental health strong and positive. We will get through it.
How do you stay rested and engaged during such a long and dynamic public health emergency?
Family for me has been everything. I do also have a healthy and balanced diet. Tons of vitamin C! Exercise and nature is what keeps me grounded. All of this can be done responsibly. Thank God I have been able to maintain myself COVID-19 free all while still enjoying the simple pleasures of life.