By Jason Kern CPE, RPL, ENP, COML

April 8, 2020

Being charged with running an Emergency Communications Center in 2020 has proven to be one of the most challenging things I’ve done in my public safety journey which dates back to 1991.

I’m a planner and I constantly look at logistics and optics. Thinking outside of the box is not abnormal and I think the results of infrastructure, equipment and redundancies in place speak for themselves. What is hard to plan for is the impact on people. The impact on our staff, our field first responders and our community is unfathomable. It is strikingly similar to the three elements needed for fire. This mixture of oxygen, heat and fuel has put our lives in a precarious position.

Our Staff – From quarantines to family illnesses to isolation; daycare challenges to becoming eLearning professionals (on top of being a mom/dad and public safety telecommunicator); spouse unemployment to grocery concerns. The list goes on and is strikingly similar across our great nation.

Our First Responders – No longer can they stop into the Center for a driver’s abstract, to deliver food or just to say hi. Our police and fire partners are dealing day-to-day with an invisible enemy and the public that significantly struggles with staying at home. They want to stay healthy and fear bringing this home to their families.

Our Community – We have lived in a society that is 24/7. From grocery to food to pharmacy to entertainment. Quickly those liberties have stopped in an attempt to reduce the spread of a virus. How quickly we see the different upbringing of generations from those that are able to handle the isolated independence to those that are purely obstinate.

As the director of an ECC, I have lost some sleep in the past few months. I need to focus on a number of items during the COVID-19 Pandemic. I have to consider the 200,000 residents that we serve; I have to be extremely cognizant of the dozen agencies we serve; I have to be attentive to the 30 amazing employees at our agency. Somewhere in my spare time, I need to focus on my other hats which include being a husband, father and son. I need to be attentive to my wife who’s dealing with a lay off coupled with her continuous 3-year fight with cancer that leaves her immune compromised despite her saying she’s fine. I need to work with my very mature and independent 16-year old who is struggling with portions of his eLearning curriculum. The point here is not about ME, it is merely pointing out that WE are all human, we are all fighting stresses, but we must prevail and find outlets to destress and lead during this time.

Here are some items within the Emergency Communications Center which should be considered as we all deal with this ordeal. My thoughts and opinions are just that… Mine. For the directors reading, I’m not telling you how to run your center and for the telecommunicators reading, this doesn’t mean that’s how your center should be run. We all have different governing boards, laws, rules and components that simply do not make this a one size fits all solution.

24 Hour News – In my opinion, this is single handedly the most detrimental item in our Communications Center. Watching relentless news reports that often conflict and sensationalize has without a doubt led to frequent conversations in the center. Those frequent conversations have to impact the various levels of stress, depression and anxiety that our public safety telecommunicators are facing daily. Never before would I consider promoting Maury to our staff over news, but now may be that time.

Communications – We are in the business of communications, but often times we fail at that core concept. I think this is an area that I can continually improve, but am optimistic that the message being delivered to our staff during this time has been consistent (not too frequent), vetted and relevant.

Rumors – Simply put, quash them ANY opportunity you can with simple unemotional facts. It is extremely important for each member of our team to seek the rumors out and eradicate them. A rumor in an ECC is detrimental to operations, performance and morale.

Schedule – As many centers across the country, we’ve dusted off and revised our COOP to address the pandemic. Within this plan we discuss and forecast changes in shift minimums, shift hours and other staffing related necessities. Our center has “declared and emergency” to position ourselves to properly implement these changes and other components. With that being said, I have been resistant to make any changes at this time until the need truly arises.

National TC Week – Our staff approached me and asked if we should/could postpone National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week. While that concept had popped into my head during one of those sleepless nights, my succinct answer was, “Absolutely Not!” In this time of unknown and change, I think staff needs a constant. What better time to thank our first responders for doing the job that they perform daily? That isn’t to say we won’t celebrate again when COVID-19 is behind us when we can socialize and interact with our brothers and sisters in blue and red.

Business as Usual – The Show Must Go On! While there are daily modifications, changes, updates, etc. the expectation of public safety is to perform to our highest level. We can not ignore the needs of our community and the needs of our responders.

“Life moves on and so should we” ~ Spencer Johnson

To the thousands of public safety telecommunicators across our country working during the pandemic, thank you. To the staff at my agency who continue to perform with pride and integrity, I can’t tell you how proud I am to be part of this family. We will all get through this, reflect and learn together.

Jason E. Kern, CPE, RPL, ENP, COML is currently the Executive Director of Southeast Emergency Communications (SEECOM) in Crystal Lake, IL and the Second Vice President for APCO International. He has been involved in multiple facets of public safety since 1991 and dedicated over 27 years to the public safety communications industry.  With over two decades of active involvement in APCO, he has been honored with Senior Member distinction in addition to Chapter Senior and Chapter Life with Illinois APCO.

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