Why Are You Here?

Why Are You Here?

Andre Jones

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.

References:

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.

BIO

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.

Silver Lining

Silver Lining

Stephan Bunker

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.

Quality Dispatch

Quality Dispatch

Andre Jones

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.

Raising Awareness

Raising Awareness

Charles Clampett

One of my passions for the past 15 years has been helping to raise the awareness of my peers with regard to critical incident stress (CIS): the causes, symptoms, and healthy mitigation techniques. I have dealt with the effects of CIS several times in my career and have luckily been able to eventually overcome it. As a peer support specialist, I have helped many of my brothers and sisters in emergency services deal with their stress over the years.

Many misconceptions exist with regard to CIS. Some of these include the misguided notions that can be summed up by unsympathetic statements such as, “Well, if you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen” or “If you can’t handle the stress, perhaps you should consider a career change!” This from professionals where empathy and compassion are supposed to go hand in hand with our stethoscopes and trauma shears. Fortunately, with returning veterans bravely being more outspoken with regard to their struggle with post-traumatic stress, some of the perceived stigma surrounding CIS has also dissipated.

I am a field paramedic of 25 years and now an emergency dispatcher, and believe it or not, the stresses are very, very similar. Being in dispatch doesn’t diminish the stress that we can feel dealing with a critical patient or agitated family member on the telephone.

One of my recent shifts in my emergency dispatch center highlighted this and began with a call from a frantic father who woke up and found his three-week-old son in cardiac arrest. The baby had been sleeping in the bed with his mom, and she had rolled over onto him at some point, suffocating him. Unfortunately, the child was pronounced dead at the scene. Frustration with the caller (who was having issues giving a clear address) coupled with it being a critical pediatric call and the impressively tragic circumstances, culminated in a significant level of critical incident stress.

My day went downhill from there. From that point forward, it was a seemingly unending parade of difficult-to-understand callers, people who couldn’t tell me where they were located, frantic people panicking on the phone, bad phone connections … all combined into a perfect storm of frustration. Soon, feelings of being that “first, first responder” began to evaporate and give way to feelings of irritation and anxiety.

I noticed throughout the day that my usual calm demeanor had cracked and given way to becoming easily frustrated with minor issues. I kept making simple mistakes. When it would get quiet for a few minutes, my mind kept going back to that call or another and the frustration that I had felt. This was culminating in actual stress and anxiety every time the 911 line would ring. Luckily, I recognized my stress and took steps to combat it.

In the short term, I simply took a break! I got up and walked around. I went into the crew room and enjoyed some time with some of the crew members. You could go outside and get some fresh air or go grab a cup of coffee and take a break. Take a few minutes to play a game on your phone or find a quiet place, put on some relaxing music, close your eyes, and think about being in the mountains or on the beach somewhere. If you are really bothered, talk to a close co-worker or supervisor. As peers, we need to be vigilant and be good listeners, especially if a co-worker comes to us stressed or in crisis.

Understand that if you or a colleague experience CIS, you are having a NORMAL reaction to an ABNORMAL situation. Take some time to do those things that make life worth living and relax. It is just as important, in taking care of others, that we take care of ourselves.

Charles Alan Clampett is a paramedic and emergency dispatcher with American Medical Response, Jackson, Mississippi (USA), and a volunteer firefighter with the McLain Volunteer Fire Department, McLain, Mississippi. He was supervisor for the 911 service in Jackson County, Mississippi, when Hurricane Katrina hit and part of the FEMA response team responding to the aftermath of Hurricane Michael.

Gear Up

Gear Up

Kevin Pagenkop, ENP

For those with a medical background, one of the first acronyms learned is “PPE.” Whether gloves, a gown, or eye protection, Personal Protective Equipment is vital for responders and clinicians to reduce their exposure to pathogens and potential hazards. The use of PPE is one of the primary steps taught, and evaluated, during initial certification training assessments as well as all continuing education. It is built so strongly into the culture of EMS that the use of PPE becomes routine and second nature. As emergency dispatchers, what should be built into our culture with the hope that it becomes second nature?

Think back to when you were first hired. The training was probably a blur of industry jargon; geography; CAD, radio, and phone training; as well a phonebook-sized stack of procedures and policies that had to be committed to memory. At some point, you were told that you would receive feedback on your performance through quality assurance (QA) case review and that you were required to accrue continuing dispatch education (CDE) hours. After enduring your marathon of training, where did the topics of QA and CDE get prioritized in your daily responsibilities? Sadly, QA is often dreaded, and CDE is only thought of as our certifications get ready to expire.

The value of continuing education is that it is continuing. Athletes aren’t going to stay in shape or build muscle if they only go to the gym once every two years. Would you want paramedics providing treatment to you or a family member if their only efforts to develop their skills were the bare minimum requirements to remain employed? As certified emergency dispatchers, don’t we too need to value the importance of improving our skills and increasing our ability to provide higher quality service—to both our responders as well as the public? Expecting someone else to provide this for us is not the most effective means of mastering the responsibilities of our job.

We need to change our culture, from day one during initial training, to highlight the value and importance of self-improvement. Personal development. Proactive training. Proactive Personal Education. The emergency dispatcher’s “PPE.”

If only the bare minimum of CDE is completed, are we prepared to take the call from the mother with an unresponsive baby, the caller trapped in her house that is on fire, or the person reporting that he is in imminent danger of being assaulted? If our understanding of QI tells us it’s the supervisor’s job to prompt us to review QA, or that it is our trainer’s job to direct us to review emergency protocols, then we’re learning by trial and error—and often on live calls. This creates needless stress and frustration as we stumble our way through high-acuity and high-emotion calls. At our worst, this increases the probability for poor incident outcomes and potential litigation. The emergency dispatcher’s version of PPE protects telecommunicators from potential hazards and dispatch danger zones by preparing us, ahead of time, to competently and confidently handle difficult or infrequent calls (like the PAI, ECHO, and CID cases referenced above).

Take the initiative to improve your skills. Take an active role in your own development. Be proactive. Here are some ways to develop your own PPE.

Proactive Personal Education can reduce stress, compassion fatigue, and fear as we focus on building our abilities and confidence—continually—like athletes building their bodies one gym visit at a time. Just like an EMT shouldn’t need to be told to put on gloves at the scene, emergency telecommunicators should apply their PPE, routinely, as a daily component of learning, growing, and mastering their role in providing emergency service.

Op-ed: Why first responders need a dedicated communications network

Op-ed: Why first responders need a dedicated communications network

By Claude Cummings – Guest contributor

As one of the most devastating storms to ever hit Texas, Hurricane Harvey taught us many lessons. One of the clearest is that we need to equip Houston’s first responders and public servants with the strongest communications platform available — and now we can.

First responders are the brave men and women who worked around the clock before, during and after Harvey made landfall, making quick decisions to keep our families safe and our city running. Since the storm was so severe, public employees were also tasked with performing critical support functions so first responders could effectively coordinate recovery efforts and relay emergency updates.

This op-ed article appears in bizjournals.com dated June 21,2019.

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