The current state of 911: Good, bad and ugly
Indeed, the bright future represented by NG-911 is being clouded in no small amount by a few significant problems of the present, beginning with how the sector is perceived. While there is little doubt that PSAP personnel are professionals, the sector is less professional than it should be, largely because there is no national certification program—and only a handful of state programs—for 911 telecommunicators.
“As the old saying goes, it takes a licensed person to cut your hair and do your nails, but there’s no certification or standards for the people who take 911 calls and give [first responders their] pre-arrival instructions,” said Steve Rauter, executive director of the Western Will County (Ill.) Communications Center.
Rauter thinks that it’s incongruous that no college degree programs exist for 911 telecommunicators when such programs do exist for police officers and firefighters.
“We truly need to professionalize our side of the house,” Rauter said. “The cops were way out ahead of this early on, where a college degree was darn near required, and the fire service is starting to catch on to that. Our people, the self-described redheaded stepchildren of public safety, their time is up. … We have not professionalized it enough to truly make it a good career path.
“This has to change, because we’re going to need people who are really on their game, really intuitive, really computer savvy and critical thinkers, in order to put together all of these pieces that are going to be flying into us, whether it’s a text, a picture, a video clip or telematics.”
Bernard “Buster” Brown, a NENA first vice president whose day job is to serve as a regional coordinator for the Virginia Information Technologies Agency, said he believes telecommunicators should be trained the same regardless of where they live—an important consideration give the economic disparities that exist from state to state, region to region, and even town to town.
“It can’t be where a telecommunicator gets this training if they live in Georgia, but if they live in Texas they get another type of training, because we’re providing the same service,” Brown said. “Training needs to be standardized across the board, and they need to get the best training possible, because they’re dealing with people in crisis, life-and-death situations.”
While there is a risk-management component to this—“No one wants to get sued,” Rauter said—there’s more to it than that, according to Brown.
“If something goes wrong, that makes the news,” Brown said. “We don’t hear about all of the good stuff that these telecommunicators do on a day-by-day basis. They can do 29 things great, but the one that goes wrong is the one we hear about.”
“If we didn’t ask [the caller] for their address three times—as the standards call for—to verify their location, and we send people across town to 1900 W. Main instead of 1900 E. Main, that makes us all look bad,” Rauter said. “[Worse], people are harmed, because the house fire is worse than it should have been, or a medical condition is worse than it should have been.”