9-1-1; What Is Your Emergency?

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Retention Strategies: Create & Maintain an Effective Continuing Education Program

Article taken from Public Safety Communications Magazine, January 2008
Written by Bob Smith, APCO International's director of Comm Center & 911 Services

Once new employees have made it through the application and hiring process, completed their formal classroom training sessions, finalized their on-the-job training and begun their probationary period, what's next? The foundation of knowledge they gained in your new-hire training program needs to be retained and supplemented as public safety communications evolves and as the needs and operations of your center change. This is accomplished through continuing dispatch education (CDE), and it is just as important for our veterans as it is for new hires.

CDE is a broad and all-encompassing phrase. It covers just about any form of public safety communications related training and education that your employees may obtain. Most agencies that require CDE will accept training sessions on any component of public safety communications, including training on CAD systems, caller interrogation techniques, call prioritization, etc.

Beyond that, most comm centers today require some form of emergency medical dispatch (EMD) or basic telecommunicator training that mandates annual recertification. Recertification requirements usually include the accumulation of CDE points through classroom sessions and other formal training activities. Some EMD programs accept training and education that is related to medical care outside of the comm center, including CPR, patient triage, mass casualty incident management, etc.

Many agencies also have staff instructors who must maintain their instructor certifications, which often also require CDE points.

CDE is an integral component of any agency's operations. Without it, the agency can quickly become mired in inadequate operations and stagnated policies and procedures. CDE can help you maintain proper service levels, incorporate new policies and procedures, train employees on new technology and address deficiencies found by the agency's quality assurance program.

CDE does not need to be delivered via formal lecture-style classroom sessions. If your agency has regular staff meetings, extend the meetings by 15 or 30 minutes to add a simple training session on one aspect of your agency's operations, such as locating specific landmarks in your jurisdiction. Consider implementing a "roll-call" training session where a quick run-through on a single topic can serve as a 15- or 30-minute refresher. Your agency can also schedule monthly one-hour sessions where employees come together to talk about a specific topic in a discussion led by a senior staff member or certified instructor.

When looking for ideas to focus on, start with the basics. Pull topics out of your agency's telecommunicator training program, such as handling fire alarms, and create a mini refresher course. You can also base sessions on your agency's policies and procedures, and on issues revealed by your agency's quality control program. Example: If your quality control program shows that telecommunicators are routinely scoring low in the area of obtaining a physical address, then conduct a session on the importance of obtaining the physical address. Consider one-hour sessions on entering data into the CAD system, locating fire hydrants, local geography, contacting keyholders, etc.

If you are fortunate enough to have funding in the form of a training budget, you can explore commercially available CDE programs that provide pre-made training sessions, such as the APCO Institute's Training in a Box series or EMD Refresher program. Programs of this type include multiple sessions that can be customized with agency-specific information. Topics can range from SWAT and raid operations to problem-solving skills for supervisors and patient assessment skills for EMDs. Such programs are relatively inexpensive and easy to use.

Whatever format is used, the hours spent in training should be tracked and documented. A simple sign-in sheet can be the basis for tracking CDE obtained. However the hours are tracked, the documentation should record the topic covered, the speaker or presenter, the date and time of the session, attendee names and how many hours were spent covering the topic. These documents can be archived by a training coordinator or other administrative employee for later submission as proof of participation in a CDE session.

Bottom line: Whether you use a commercially available CDE program or create one in-house, every agency should have a program in place. CDE programs allow your agency to maintain proper levels of operational proficiency and address deficiencies detected by your agency's quality assurance program. They also provide a quick, simple way to train employees on modifications to existing policies and procedures and show them how to incorporate training on new policies and procedures or technology into their jobs.

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