Thanks to modern mobile devices, near-ubiquitous Internet connectivity, and a plethora of free social media and sharing applications, we can send photos to our families from across the world, video chat in real time with distant friends, and upload our voices to the ears of millions in less time than it takes to record ourselves in the first place. These tools can keep us closer together, but they can also help public safety officers and dispatchers save lives – if they have the technology… READ MORE
Since December 2015, I’ve had the honor and privilege to recognize our local law enforcement members every Friday on what we call #BlueFriday.
Toady, I got a call from a local Jersey resident who asked if we’d make a special mention of 9-1-1 dispatchers. What a great idea. 9-1-1 dispatchers are literally the first line of defense when you need help. Whether it’s a medical emergency or a crime in progress, it’s the person on the other end of the 9-1-1 call who stays calm, implements their training and makes sure you get the help you need…
by Manlio Allegra | Urgent Communications
Last spring, we outlined how 3D location can increase situational awareness and improve operational efficiency for public safety responders. At the time, this was a somewhat hypothetical scenario as 3D location technology had been proven but not yet implemented. Since then 3D location capability has been available to application developers through an over-the-top capability.
‘Over the Top’ solutions are positioning techniques that expand on device-based location by incorporating additional sensor measurements and algorithms in an intelligent and robust way. However, public safety still needs wireless operators to implement vertical location capabilities into their networks for E911 purposes. Only then could the public-safety answering points (PSAPs) identify an emergency caller’s vertical location.
The likelihood of a wireless operator implementing this technology received a huge boost recently, when the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) adopted an E911 Z-axis mandate for wireless operators. With this mandate now in place and the first deployment milestone due by April 2021, 2020 promises to be the year when the wireless industry and public safety organizations focus on implementing vertical-location solutions for E911.
I recall sitting in a 911 center recruitment session and recruiters talking to me about the lifesaving work of a 911 dispatcher. They explained the job duties, job responsibilities, job demands, and even the job stress. “Wow,” I thought. “I can do this. I can help people.”
About three years later, I was over it. What the recruiters left out is that job commitment and job satisfaction come under attack by the work environment and organizational culture. These things impacted my organizational commitment, ultimately causing me to quit. And such is the story all over the country, from center to center, the real reason for absenteeism and turnover … dispatcher not leaving the job, but leaving the organization. The illusion has always been that it is the job stress that is the cause for turnover, but it is actually the toxic culture.
The Cambridge dictionary tells us that an organization is “a group of people who work together in an organized way for a shared purpose.” However, the word organization is often self-identified as some mystically magical entity we know as “management.” This is the problem. Dispatchers typically see management as their pinnacle priority and not EACH OTHER. While management is a process of organizing the organization, they are not grand supreme. WE THE PEOPLE in the 911 center reign supreme, and without our commitment, there would be no organization.
Organizational commitment is the level of dedication of the individual to the collective purpose. It’s our individual understanding of that purpose that ultimately determines why we remain connected to it. That leads me to ask a question we should ask ourselves often … Why am I here? At a minimum, ask this question biannually during performance reviews to determine if you are in the right place. But I would challenge you to ask it daily before you walk into the workplace and put on that headset; WHY AM I HERE? Is it because you want to be here, you have to be here, or you need to be here? But don’t be confused by the question. It should be read as “Why are you here at this organization?”
Bon & Shire (2017) suggest a need to understand organizational commitment in terms of desire-based (affective commitment), obligation-based (normative commitment), or cost-based (continuance commitment). Management would have you believe you are in the 911 center to serve, and this selflessness cannot be measured. However, when staffing is not adequate, support from leadership is lacking, and there are no mental health initiatives, does that make you want to stay? Do pizza parties, cakes, free stress balls, and fancy certificates make you want to stay? I think not.
In fact, with the cognitive and emotional demands, computer problems, time pressure, interpersonal problems, work pressure and overload, we want to be on the job less and less (Schaufeli & Taris, 2014). What is management doing to cultivate the organization beyond the imposition of vision and mission statements?
Management is there to provide tools and resources so that the vision and mission are executable. However, it is unfortunate that the resources they impose like leadership, appreciation, financial rewards, and team cohesion and harmony, which should balance the demands, actually exacerbate outcomes, leading to absenteeism and turnover (Schaufeli & Taris, 2014). The only real tool and resources we have are ourselves, and the only thing we can do is go back to the basics and establish our own personal center. This requires that you evaluate YOUR purpose and your WHY and align it with your organization’s mission. This will then change the meaning of the question to be “Why are you here in this job?”
While my WHY is to help people, I can do so by “delivering the safest, most effective, and compassionate care to all its patients” at Hamad Medical Corporation Ambulance Service, national ambulance service in the State of Qatar in the Middle East. So at the end of the day, I ask myself … was I safe today, was I effective today, was I compassionate today? The answers will potentially determine whether I am here because I want to be here, because I have to be here, or because I need to be here.
We all have a choice. I did when the vision and mission were not enough, and I lost my connection to the culture and my ability to follow management. I was ready to move on from “Crisis 911” and be a part of “Serenity 911”. In another place, I felt my purpose would be a good fit, and I could continue to be of service without giving away my “self.” After all, if we cannot take care of “self” and each other, we are in no position to care for the community.
Are you a part of Crisis 911 or would you rather be a part of Serenity 911? Even if you are on the job because you have to be there, you can still do your part to create a pleasant culture. Organizational commitment nourishes job commitment as well as mitigates turnover (Brunetto, Teo, Shacklock & Farr-Wharton, 2012). Everyone in the 911 center needs to be more involved and empowered to forge the culture—not just management.
Bon AT, Shire AM. “The impact of job demands on employees’ turnover intentions: A study on telecommunication sector.” International Journal of Scientific Research Publications. 2017; 7 (5).
Brunetto Y, Teo S, Shacklock K, Farr-Wharton R. “Emotional intelligence, job satisfaction, well-being and engagement: explaining organizational commitment and turnover intentions in policing.” Human Resource Management Journal. 2012; July 8. doi.org/10.1111/j.1748-8583.2012.00198.x (accessed May 28, 2019).
Schaufeli WB, Taris TW. “A Critical Review of the Job Demands-Resources Model: Implications for Improving Work and Health.“ Bridging Occupational, Organizational and Public Health: A Transdisciplinary Approach. Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht. 2013; Aug. 22. doi.org/10.1007/978-94-007-5640-3_4 (accessed May 28, 2019).
ED-Q Performance Standards. Tenth Edition International Academies of Emergency Dispatch; Salt Lake City. 2018.
Andre Jones is the Assistant Executive Director of Communications and Control Centers for Hamad Medical Corporation, the national ambulance service in the State of Qatar in the Middle East. He is a Master Software Instructor and National Q Evaluator for Priority Dispatch Corp.™ as well as an Adjunct Instructor at Jacksonville State University’s Department of Emergency Management where he earned his BSc, M.S., and M.P.A. He is currently working on a Ph.D.
Crime statistics involving firearms, domestic violence, sexual assaults, active shooter events, and workplace violence fill our news headlines. Particularly troubling is the instance of officer-involved shootings, especially those resulting in the death of a civilian.
With the increase in civilians purchasing firearms for self-defense, civilians with gun in hand and fearing for the safety of their home and family have been known to confront officers arriving on scene. Sadly, multiple instances making the news involve responding officers confusing well-intended civilians with that of armed offenders and tragically using deadly force in what is referred to now as “good guys with a gun.” Increasingly, assailants are intentionally forcing officers to use deadly force, often referred to as “suicide by cop.”
Public reaction to such events, especially given the advent of smartphone videos and body cameras, has been quick to generate civilian outcries and demonstrations. Justified or not, these events can tear a community apart, cause loss of faith in police, and take a tremendous professional and personal toll on the officer(s) involved and fellow officers.
This is where Emergency Police Dispatchers and responding police officers share two crucial priorities: apprehension and scene safety. The collection of information helps apprehend the suspect and plays a pivotal role in protecting an officer’s survival in the field.
Given a review of the work of emergency dispatchers, it is recognized that the actions and decision-making by them in the first minute or two in a call can affect the outcome of the next hour or two at the scene and the success or failure of the operation, or safety of an officer. Given the rise in calls for service, with fewer officers to respond, help cannot wait until officers arrive, putting “boots are on the ground.” The collection of information such as scene safety issues, weapons used or available, injuries, and description and location of assailants are critical elements in scene safety and help officers make more well-informed tactical decisions in their response. Carefully trained dispatchers, guided by structured protocols, can more accurately identify such threats to officers by asking Key Questions related to access to weapons and threats made by the assailant. (see State of Ga. v. Christopher Calmer)
Because dispatchers are also the first contact with the caller, they have the first and best opportunity to influence those at the scene. For example, in situations with hostages or barricaded subjects, a dispatcher is the de facto “negotiator” until officers arrive.
Officers are certainly under a high degree of stress and depend upon the degree of their training and adherence to approved policies and practices. Likewise, police dispatchers suffer similar stress in dealing with challenging callers who are often hurt, frightened, and angered, all while concerned for officer safety. Emergency dispatchers need a plan to manage stress that adheres to carefully worded guidance as found in a Priority Dispatch System™. Such a resource in stressful situations helps to eliminate errors or omissions in information collected and the instructions given. Responding officers receive the consistent quality of information they depend upon to ensure their safety and effectiveness.
After almost 40 years of using a priority dispatch response system, the emergency dispatch profession has learned that help begins with answering the call and continues until officer arrival on scene. This is referred to as “zero response time,” where emergency dispatch professionals, guided by well-thought-out protocols, can immediately offer lifesaving Pre-Arrival and Post-Dispatch Instructions to callers.
In my decades in public safety I have seen great strides in the professionalism of our sworn officers. I look forward to the time when our dispatch centers adopt a standard of care in police call answering and dispatching. The two share a common thread in officer safety and quick apprehension of offenders, while protecting the public. I pray that in doing so, may we all be spared the sad occasion of adding another officer’s name to a memorial wall.
The International Academies of Emergency Dispatch® (IAED™) has determined that quality is “conformance to requirements,” according to the Performance Standards 10th Edition, but who determines what is required? Most often, the customer (or community) determines the “standard of care,” and these standards are dependent on circumstances. We define the quality of services, therefore, by listening to the voice of the customer. Why not listen to the voice of the employee to define the quality of employees? This concept, often used in commercial call centers, suggests that job commitment and job satisfaction improve employee engagement and the employee experience and, consequently, improve organizational commitment and operational effectiveness improve.
Let me explain …
Public safety is of prime importance to our emergency dispatch community. We should be inspired by our community and use that inspiration to make a positive impact on the community’s public safety experience. Every interaction is an opportunity to learn, improve, and impress. But we cannot be empowered if we are not satisfied or committed.
So why are we not satisfied or committed?
Research suggests that a lack of job satisfaction and organizational commitment in emergency dispatch is due to unmet expectations and the list is not short: benefits, policies, management and supervision, work autonomy and process, opportunity, training, growth and development, teamwork, technology, and even retirement. The unmet expectations lead to non-engaged employees and ultimately affects their well-being. How can employees effectively serve if they are unhappy and not part of decisions affecting their career? Research suggests that when employees are less engaged, operational effectiveness diminishes. This is mostly quantitative research, remember people do not talk in numbers, so it’s paramount to understand staff needs, wishes, hopes, preferences, and aversions, in their own words.
Public safety telecommunications leaders need to listen to the voice of the employee to create understanding and collaboration. We must ask questions like “How can I help?” or “What do you need?” This is how we gain perspective.
Despite having an organizational mission and vision, employee needs go beyond that in requiring physical, psychological, social, and/or organizational support to achieve work goals. Their feedback must be considered valuable and actionable without a lot of strategic direction.
An employee came to me and said he understood that the calltaker performance was being monitored in terms of answer speed, queue time, duration of calls, and abandoned calls. The employee told me that he became frustrated when callers were not prepared with the information he needed to help, which he felt contributed negatively to how long it took to answer calls, resulting in longer queuing times and more abandoned calls. He suggested adding a voice prompt in the interactive voice response phone system that asked callers to kindly have their patient’s identification information ready in preparation to speak with an agent.
I could have not been more pleased with this suggestion. Even though I originally designed all the scripts and found all types of reasons why the performance indicators were unstable, I never considered this option after more than a year of implementation of the new phone system. In less than 24 hours I added the new script and, in a week, call handling times decreased by 10 seconds. This was a win for both the customers we serve and the employees.
While cakes, cookies, and awards/recognition are good motivators, they are not sustainable mediators of employee well-being. When employees have a safe and respectful work environment, evolving best practices, supportive supervision, low cynicism, efficient work processes with non-cumbersome technology, and reasonable job strain with a reasonable work-life balance, there is a greater chance that they will be happy. Happy employees will deliver better service.