'You could hear shots over the phone': Christchurch emergency operator on the moment gunman reports flooded in

Police received more than 100 calls in a short burst of time as the gunman moved throughout Christchurch.
Police received more than 100 calls in a short burst of time as the gunman moved throughout Christchurch. Photo credit: Getty Images.

A police call centre operator has revealed the moment of horror her colleagues realised the Christchurch terror attack was underway.

The phone operator, who Newshub agreed not to name, praised the work of workmates as residents turned to emergency services for help as 17 minutes of terror unfolded on Friday afternoon. 

"There was heaps of information that was confusing, like not knowing straight away there was two shootings and two different Mosques," the police communications centre worker told Newshub.

The operator was not working on Friday afternoon when calls started coming in but wanted to share the stories of their fellow colleagues and shine a light on the stress of reacting to a live terror situation.

She understands there were more than one hundred calls made to emergency services within minutes. 

One call-taker took a call from a woman hiding in the bathroom of a Mosque and could hear the shots through the phone.

In a message shared with Newshub, the woman who took that call said the female on the other end of the phone was "clearly distressed". 

"The hardest part of this phone call was trying to keep my cool and reassure my informant - without breaking down - that she will be okay, even though all you can hear is gunshot after gunshot in the background. 

"Honestly felt like I was right there with her."

She can’t fathom how that frightened woman must be feeling right now but understands she was able to make it out safely.

"I’m sorry we couldn’t save the others."

Another colleague of the call-taker’s worked overtime that evening and had people ringing from the Middle East trying to find out about loved ones.

She said the woman managed to use the phonetic alphabet to spell a man’s name.

"I know she struggled with that though as you could hear the heartbreak in his voice,” the call-taker said.

Another dispatcher in Christchurch working on the day said it was "the hardest day she’s ever had to work". 

The IVR system was triggered for 30 minutes, which automatically kicks when so many calls come in at once.  

IVR provides an automated message for callers to choose one, two or three to select fire, ambulance or police.

When it is in IVR, it can mean callers don’t always want to wait on the line and hang up. 

"When we are in IVR everyone in the centre gets an alert and we pull people from other areas to assist with call-taking if needed, from dispatch or crime reporting.

"It wasn’t long as everyone jumped on the phones to help. 

"We band together and helped each other out, had each other’s backs as much as we could, more than normal as well."

A call-taker is tasked with following up the call-backs for the dropped IVR calls, as all numbers are recorded in a list just to make sure why they were calling.

In usual circumstances most people call back again and it’s represented to an operator but someone needs to decipher through them all to check and call back if needed.

The call-taker explained the job can be extremely intense, sometimes sending officers into a blind situation "with risk of them dying".

She said the challenging role was confronting for colleagues, who are offered counselling services. Some workers have been able to draw on experience from handling traumatic calls during the Christchurch earthquakes in 2011. 

"We are offered support system, we do debriefs after hard calls taken and jobs dispatched.

"Our supervisors and colleagues are our biggest support, when big stuff goes down everyone jumps in and helps, including the big bosses."



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