View from the Top

911 telecommunicator training takes center stage in many states

The effort to enhance 911 telecommunicator training to ensure a more consistent standard of care is gaining momentum.

A good amount of evangelism also occurred to make this law happen. Early in 2016, Haight crisscrossed the state, driving a total of 1,100 miles in a week to conduct nine presentations to raise awareness of the proposed hiring and training standards. A media campaign in advance of the road trip paid enormous dividends.

“We sent out press releases, and we had TV and print media at virtually every venue,” Haight said. “The result was massive statewide coverage. The media was really interested in this and wanted to keep it in front of the public.”

Haight was joined on his sojourn by Nathan Lee, executive director of the Denise Amber Lee Foundation. Ground zero of the movement to develop nationally accepted minimum training guidelines for telecommunicators can be traced to the abduction and murder in January 2008 of Denise Amber Lee, Nathan’s 21-year-old wife and the mother of their two small children. Denise was able to make calls to 911—as did at least three other eyewitnesses— during the incident. Despite this, law enforcement was unable to locate her in time, and telecommunicator error and lack of training were cited as key factors.

Since then, Nathan Lee has worked tirelessly in the name of enhancing the training that telecommunicators receive and ensuring that a base level of competency is established from coast to coast. Haight was so impressed with Nathan’s passion that he agreed to become a Foundation board member.

The foundation was one of numerous organizations that joined in an industrywide collaborative effort—facilitated by the National 911 Program—that resulted in the adoption of recommended minimum training guidelines for telecommunicators in June 2016. (See the figure for the complete list of participating organizations.)

Primary training topics identified through the effort include the following:

  • Telecommunicator roles and responsibilities
  • 911 call processing
  • Radio communications
  • Emergency management
  • Emergency communications technology
  • Legal concepts
  • Interpersonal communications
  • Stress management
  • Quality assurance
  • On-the-job training guidelines

Numerous subtopics were identified for each of the above listed topics. In addition, the project generated a model legislation-advocacy toolkit that state and local entities can use to pursue legislation such as the law developed in Idaho. In addition to actual model legislation that can be used as the foundation for the development of a state or local law, the toolkit contains a PowerPoint presentation, one-page summary sheet, suggested answers to frequently asked questions, case studies, and an “elevator pitch” for advocates to use.

All of these items can be used to persuade both legislators and the media by leveraging the power of the media--an enormously effective tactic, as Haight’s experience demonstrates. Often, PSAP officials do not possess the expertise nor the time to effectively lobby legislators or the media, so the toolkit should be quite useful in this regard.

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