In the wake of the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, another national day of remembrance has become overshadowed.
As declared in 1987 by President Ronald Reagan, Sept. 11 is 911 Emergency Number Day. It's a time to honor those who are the true first responders during a crisis.
"I always try to do something special for the operators, even if it's small," said Debra Wimpy, the county's communications director.
"I don't like to try and make a big deal of it since [the terrorist attacks]. I don't want to seem like I'm trying to overshadow such a tragic event."
Dawson County Sheriff's Office Lt. Col. John Cagle believes that such recognition is important because of the vital role the 911 operators play.
"They truly are the first responders to any emergency," Cagle said. "They are the first voice that people here.
"When they take a call, they have so many things to do at one time: dispatch police, fire or EMTs; keep people calm; and, in some instances, give instruction in CPR or other methods of preserving life."
Cagle praised the local 12-member 911 unit, describing it as "talented in many areas."
"They always remain calm and they always know what they're doing," Cagle said. "I can't brag about them too much at all. The citizens of Dawson County can rest easy with this group on the job."
Kris White, communications supervisor for her shift, said many residents "don't realize just how much we do."
"We're on the radio as dispatch, answering the phones for both emergency calls and calls from within the department, and people are constantly in and out that need stuff from our department," she said.
Sandra Evans, who joined the operators after 25 years as a real estate agent, said there is never time to get bored.
"It's a whole new world and I love it," said Evans, who is a trainee. "The adrenaline and being able to help people, it's very fulfilling."
Wimpy said the most difficult part of the job is taking an emergency call but not being able to follow the situation through to the end.
"The emergency on-scene responders are there until the case is resolved, but once they show up, most of our job is done," Wimpy said. "That's the hardest part, not taking the call home with you or letting it affect the next call."
Kristi Hudson, a 911 communications officer, said she enjoys her job because it gives her the ability to help the community.
"I used to work in banking and we were robbed three times," Hudson said. "The Dawson County officers who responded each time brought up the idea of working in the 911 office.
"I came and sat in with the operators one night and I've been hooked ever since."
Both Hudson and White, who have degrees in criminal justice, are glad to pursue careers that allow them to apply what they've learned.
Dawson County Sheriff's Sgt. Michener Long said the force is lucky to have such dedicated and enthusiastic operators.
"They do a very professional job. They're always willing to accommodate the things we need," Long said. "You build a bond with the crew that's on duty when you are because they're your lifeline when you're out."
Wimpy said that the 911 operators work the same 12-hour shifts as their emergency-responder counterparts.
"It makes everyone more comfortable with each other, which makes doing our jobs that much more efficient," Wimpy said.
Added Investigator Janice Hester: "We love them very much. They're always on top of their job and always there when we need them."
Wimpy said the operators "work hard, just as the responders do."
"It can never be enough to detail how important they are, but I hope it lets them know they are appreciated," she said.