9-1-1; What Is Your Emergency?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Be the Best You Can Be: Preparing to Move Up the Ladder

Taken from Public Safety Communications Magazine, September 2014
Written by Crystal McDuffie, RPL, ENP, Communications Center & 9-1-1 Services Manager for APCO International.  She has more than 18 years of public safety communications experience, in addition to serving as an EMT-Paramedic.

Whoever you are, whatever position you hold, you should always strive to be the best.  As anyone in public safety is aware, there are several different roles within an emergency communications center.  Many roles carry  multiple responsibilities and almost all of them require working together as a team while exceling as an individual.

Let's begin with the role of telecommunicator.  Do you know what the minimum training entails?  What core competencies should you have to be successful?  It really isn't just being able to answer the phone, or dispatching a unit; there's far more to it.

Then there's the role of the communications training officer (CTO).  It's not merely passing along what you know or demonstrating how to complete a task.  There are other questions, especially when it comes to evaluations:  When should you do them?  How often?  How do you ensure you are both fair and consistent?

Does your agency hold initial (basic) training or in-service topics?  Those instructors need to meet specific training requirements to ensure their delivery of the course is successful.  Does the instructor understand the adult learning principles?  What method works the best for training adults?

Moving on to quality assurance evaluators (QAE), that's another set of training and competencies necessary to evaluate a comm center's quality of service.  Does that person understand how to deliver constructive feedback and when necessary?  What about recommending remedial training?

Supervisors and managers are no longer promoted based on the fact that they have been there the longest or are a really good telecommunciator.  While it's great to be strong operationally, there are other facets of the job that need to be mastered.

So how does one find the answers to all these questions?  APCO International provides members of the emergency communications profession with core competencies and  minimum training requirements, along with the skills and knowledge necessary for each of the positions I've mentioned.  Each of the applicable APCO standards specifies in detail the information that each of these roles need to know to successfully perform in their position.

Let's look specifically at the standards for supervisor and manager/director.  Beyond operations, we must ensure that we follow all applicable state and federal laws, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Fair Labor Acts, just to name a couple.  What about that budget?  Money really doesn't grow on trees and every dollar spent has to be planned and accounted for.

Another aspect is communicating effectively with other agencies, organizations or resources that are utilized in ensuring you deliver a quality service.  That quality of service must then be maintained and evaluated.  Let's not forget about training: training of new hires, continuing education, remedial training, and on and on.

The leadership qualities and training of supervisors and managers affect many aspects of the communications center.  There are many tasks that must be completed, from budgets to scheduling, from training to resolving conflicts between staff.  Management plays an important role in employee hiring and retention.  If the supervisor or manager does not do a good job as a leader, retention will suffer.

How do you prepare yourself for the responsibility of being a supervisor or manager?  What classes will you take to prepare yourself for these roles?

Standards such as APCO ANS (American National Standard) 3.102.1-2012 Core Competencies and Minimum Training Standards for Public Safety Communications Supervisor, and 3.109.2-2014 Core Competencies and Minimum Training Standards for Public Safety Communications Manager/Director have established specific competencies and skills that are needed for leadership roles in communications.  These standards are intended to provide a consistent foundation of knowledge, skills and abilities necessary to fulfill the critical leadership function.

In the popular leadership book by John C. Maxwell, The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader, quality number ten is "Initiative."  Similarly, Conrad Hilton, has been quoted as saying, "Success seems to be connected with action.  Successful people keep moving.  They make mistakes, but they don't quit."  To keep moving is the key, whether you're enhancing your readiness for a promotion or simply striving to be the best that you can be in your current position.

The environment of public safety communications is ever-changing and evolving; technology is moving at a speed that makes it difficult to keep up.  It is imperative that, in any role, we maintain and improve our own knowledge and skills.

Moving ahead in your career is an admirable step to consider.  APCO International provides a number of standards and resources to help you prepare.  Becoming familiar with these standards, and learning the requirements and attributes of successful leaders in this profession will help you answer the fundamental question we must all ask ourselves as we advance in our career:  Are you ready?

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