NEW ORLEANS—Successful co-locating can be a challenge for even the most well-intentioned public-safety answering points (PSAPs), because merging space, policies, and personalities can be as divisive as it is unifying. But with proper planning and effective communication it can be done, according to several emergency-response leaders recounting their co-location experiences.

“As we co-located we had some growing pains,” said Barbara Ireland, deputy chief of New Orleans EMS. Ireland gave remarks during a co-location panel at APCO 2014 consisting of New Orleans emergency response leaders from EMS, the police department, and the fire department.

“We are like siblings. Sometimes we get along, sometimes we don’t, but we have each other’s back,” Ireland said.

During the session, the leaders examined and discussed some other issues that have arrived from co-location and managing the workload of other agencies that may have different policies and procedures and how to navigate the balance of power.

“It is kind of like the Congress and the Senate,” Ireland said. “Sometimes it is like the Senate, where each agency has the same number of the votes, but sometimes it is like Congress, where it may make sense for the police to carry a little more weight, because they are the larger agency.”

The fact that the agencies have different sizes and that there may be disparate pay rates among similarly situated individuals performing similar duties has raised issues in the work place, according to the leaders. They manage the differences by establishing effective communication among them.

“Communication and how you respond to issues as they arrive is really going to be important,” said Simon Hargrove of the New Orleans Police Department.

For example, situations may arrive when an employee from one particular agency complains about another agency. 

“When employee reports an issue, [you have to decide] how do you deal with it when they complain about another agency,” Hargrove said.

It is important to listen to the employee and then address the issue.

“Bring it to the other person, but not in an accusatory fashion,” Hargrove advised.

Sometimes the employee who is raising a complaint may not be aware of all of the dynamics of a situation, but the employee’s views should still be respected, Hargrove said.

“People’s perception my not be correct, but how they feel about it is very real,” he said.

For example, an issue arose when one agency was answering calls for another agency. In answering the calls, the agency always asked the callers for the address of their emergency, but they noticed that once they transferred the calls to the other agency, the responders asked for the caller’s address two additional times.

“Some people were very upset that the other agency did not trust them,” Ireland said.

However, what the concerned telecommunicators did not know is that it was the other agency’s protocol to ask every caller for the address two times.

Another potential challenge of co-locating is the fact that different agencies may have different polices regarding employee issues such as breaks, lunch, visitors, and cell-phone use.