9-1-1; What Is Your Emergency?

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Quality Is Job 9-1-1

Taken from 9-1-1 Magazine.com 2-12-2012

Written by Barry Furey, involved in public safety for more than 40 years, having managed 9-1-1 centers in four states.  A life member of APCO International, at this writing he was director of the Raleigh-Wake County (NC) Emergency Communications Center.

With all the hoopla over the Super Bowl car commercials - especially the one starring Clint Eastwood - it may be fitting to start this piece with a reference to one from seasons past.  In the early 1980s, Ford Motor Company penned the slogan "QJ1" - which stood for Quality is Job One.  That seemed reasonable then, and still seems reasonable now.  After all, if you are going to do something, you might as well do it right.  That axiom certainly applies to 9-1-1.

That being said, the state of quality control within our industry truly requires a case-by-case study.  Some states have standards; others do not.  Some agencies train; others do not.  You get the point.  Realistically then, quality must begin at home.  But what do we mean by quality?  What do we measure and how often do we measure it?  And, more importantly, what do we do with the results?

For starters, let's consider the fact that we're not even really sure what to call the process.  Is it quality assurance or quality improvement?  The first suggests that good service is essentially a lock.  After all, you're assuring it, aren't you?  On the other hand, the latter implies that you've already got quality, but you're going to make things even better.  Maybe it really doesn't matter in the end as long as something is done that both monitors - and hopefully improves - levels of service.

If you are utilizing a protocol-based call taking and dispatching methodology such as Emergency Medical Dispatching (EMD) or its fire and police variants EFD and EPD, chances are you have some sort of review mechanism built it.  After all, if you are committing to a scripted process it makes sense that its proper use has to be validated.  If not, you have nothing but a false sense of security.  Typically, methodology and guidelines for review are provided by the vendor.  But, in order for a quality assurance/improvement to work, it has to encompass more than one area.  For example, unless you are an EMS-only PSAP, emergency medical calls will make up only a portion of your Center's call volume.  Unless you use a protocol for every service you support, something is going to fall through the cracks.  Even when protocols are routinely used, the measurements called for may not cover every aspect of good customer service.  Where they are not used - or used for only one service - a majority of your calls may pass without review.  This is certainly not a strategy for success.

If, indeed, you are truly interested in quality, then a system that allows for the monitoring of both telephone calls (inbound and outbound) along with radio transmissions, CAD entries, and all other forms of communication (such as Mobile Data Terminals) is in order.  I include the latter because I've known several situations where such electronic traffic could be considered less than professional.  With  Freedom of Information requests flying about, you'll be glad you thought about looking there first.

In beginning the process, it's reasonable to take some guidance from those systems that have already been put in place.  Typically, 5% or less of a dispatcher's calls are actually reviewed.  Still, this provides a reasonable sample.  Another consideration is the assurance of random monitoring.  After all, having a less than fairly uniform comparison of all employees is also less than fair.  There are a number of software suites out there - some provided as part of logging recorder packages, and others as third party stand-alone programs - that can help you both create a valid call selection and grade your reviews.  The more flexibility a program offers, the better; especially when it comes to creating a list of key elements and a means for weighing each category.  What you look for is up to you, but it should at minimum include controlling the call, obtaining the correct information, documenting this information, adherence to procedure, disposition of the call (dispatch, relay, etc.) and professional demeanor.

Aside from the mechanics of QA/QI there are the personnel issues to consider.  I recently became part of an online discussion regarding whether or not observations from a regularly performed review could or should be used to initiate a disciplinary action.  While I strongly maintain that management must assure employees that such reviews are not witch hunts (and must make sure that they are not,) it is also my belief that you can't ignore a problem if you find it.  While some discretion may be applied, serious issues need to be addressed.  Sometimes observations may lead to more training or other options, but there are clearly cases where discipline is suggested.  After all, if you don't fix what's broken, you are neither assuring nor improving quality.  And isn't that what you started out to do in the first place?

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