She knows the codes and law enforcement lingo, but she’s still getting used to street names.
Kathy Hawn, the woman behind the Alert Whidbey 2.0 Facebook group, has several police scanner radios in her general vicinity every day and posts all of the 911 emergency dispatches she hears.
The calls range from livestock on the loose and troublesome peacocks to house fires and domestic violence — and a lot in between. There have been calls about fatal car crashes. One time a caller thought they saw a dead body in Dugualla Bay, but then Hawn heard first responders radio that it was just a tree trunk. Lately there have been a lot of calls about a person filming others outside Walmart.
Since August 2020, she has amassed an online following of 8,100 and counting.
Hawn has been listening to scanner chatter since she was about 10 years old. Her mother had a police scanner in the house when she was young. Now she uses an app on her phone called “Police Scanner Radio & Fire” and has a couple of handheld scanners.
The 1978 Oak Harbor High School graduate served in the U.S. Army as an operating room specialist before she went to work at WhidbeyHealth. She is retired now and spends most of the day listening to emergency dispatches.
She once considered taking a job as a dispatcher but was cautioned by a colleague against it.
“He told me, ‘You’re going to want to jump through the phone to help them, and you won’t be able to,’” she recalled. “And he was right.”
Hawn said she started Alert Whidbey 2.0 because she has the time and wants people to know what’s going on around the island.
There was another social media page with a similar name where Hawn used to post about house fires and car accidents, but she decided to start her own page when an administrator kept deleting her posts.
“I think it’s important to show people, to open their eyes,” she said.
Hawn estimated it takes 20 seconds to type out a call. Sometimes she will wait if it’s a particularly active call like a house fire and provide updates as she hears them. She will also wait if the call is a crime report to try to make sure her posts don’t tip off the perpetrator.
“I wouldn’t want my page to be the reason someone got away,” she explained.
Sometimes the calls are difficult to hear and she needs to go back and correct them, or the information keeps changing as first responders learn more. She also doesn’t follow up on calls — although she wonders about the outcome — but instead reads about them in this newspaper.
She has heard from people who appreciate her efforts, like when she told a woman what to do when a tree fell on her house. She noted that she has a significant audience located on the East Coast, many of them people with sons or daughters stationed at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island.
However, she has heard from critics and admits she’s made mistakes. Sometimes people complain about the wording or claim she posts too much private information. She doesn’t post a person’s name but will provide cross streets.
She has learned to be careful about the wording of some calls. Most of her posts are close to verbatim of what is said on the radio, but certain calls will simply be described as a “medical call” or “disorderly” instead of going into great detail.
“People make fun of them, and I can’t tolerate that,” Hawn said.
The comments on one call about a woman and her daughter at a marina where the woman jumped into the water particularly bothered her, she said. The woman likely had a mental illness.
“Sometimes I just want to reach through the phone,” Hawn said. “It’s amazing to me how cruel people can be.”
There are some light-hearted calls, like wandering cows or a port-a-potty that blew off a truck.
She’s received a lot of offers of help to keep the page going but said she is wary of letting people she doesn’t know take the reins.
Ultimately, the hobby has given her a unique perspective on those who respond to emergency calls.