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Next Generation Quality Assurance - Getting Ready for the Future

Author: Diamond Chaflawee, NICE Systems

Copyright: 9-1-1 Magazine, Feature Content

Date: 2014-01-08
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We make decisions in split seconds all of the time. But few are as critical as those made during 9-1-1 calls. Ensuring that those decisions lead to the optimal outcome can be the difference between life and death. The critical nature of 9-1-1 emergency communications and maintaining effective responses is something we all need and want; it is the reason that most, if not all PSAPs have some form of quality assurance (QA) procedure.

Up until now, QA focused on telephony calls as this has been the primary form of 9-1-1 communication between PSAPs and the public. All this though will soon change with NG9-1-1. PSAPs will also be required to handle text, video, images, and potentially other forms and types of data originating from various security sensors. With all of the information and data types that will be flowing through the PSAP there is an essential need to make sure that everyone within the PSAP knows what to do with incoming information so they can make critical decisions, often in split seconds.

In this complex environment, QA will be even more essential for identifying and closing knowledge gaps. Another growing challenge for the PSAP is compliance as regulations such as CALEA, APCO P33, and future NENA standards gain momentum. This poses the question: How will PSAPs meet the public’s high service expectations in the midst of such wide-ranging changes? The answer is in the next generation of QA.


How NG9-1-1 Changes the Telecommunicator’s Role

The widespread availability of broadband together with the implementation of NG9-1-1 means that PSAP call takers will be handling multimedia communications instead of just telephony calls. As a result, a call taker’s knowledge and skill sets will need to expand as they manage all of this new data. While their mission will essentially remain the same — initiating effective response for emergency situations — the format in which they receive information about events will dramatically change.

New systems, together with streams of multimedia communication — video, images, and text — will require new procedures. Furthermore, call takers will need to have the ability to process new media formats and make decisions based on those inputs. While these new inputs to the call taking process can provide greater insight, they also have the potential to confuse. This is where QA can help – in identifying knowledge gaps so that management can address them immediately. The right QA solution will ensure that call takers are on track with new skills and knowledge.


QA’s Transition

It is not uncommon for PSAPs to currently conduct QA manually. This is manageable when only telephony calls are being reviewed. QA using recorded calls is more efficient and effective than the manual technique, but again only addresses telephony communications. Next generation QA solutions, on the other hand, provide the ability to review the entire event’s lifecycle, beyond just the voice communications. This could include screen shots and keystrokes, along with media such as video or text messages.

Another issue with manual QA is that it is left to the discretion or ability of management to carry out the process. This is time consuming and requires an expenditure of resources. There is also nothing random about this type of QA, which means it can lack objectivity. Additionally, in most cases the frequency of traditional QA does not allow for fact-based trends to emerge, which could indicate a pervasive issue. Next generation QA addresses these problems through automation.


The Role of Technology in Next Gen QA 

When you apply the right technology to QA, you are able to take a more comprehensive view of the organization and its performance. Manual, opportunistic QA is transformed into an automated process that is continuous and consistent. It also provides objectivity and a defined methodology so results are more accurate and informative. For call takers, the objectivity promotes a sense of trust and engagement in results and improvement initiatives. 

If a PSAP is looking to deploy a next generation QA system, it should be one that can address the complete performance improvement lifecycle, including training and ongoing evaluations. When evaluating a next generation QA solution here are some of the things to look for:

  • Complete incident capture – if it can’t be captured, it can’t be reviewed. When it comes to QA, voice recordings are just part of the picture. With next generation QA systems, it’s possible to capture and synch, for example, screen recordings to the voice recordings, making possible to see and hear what transpired. How was the call taker interacting with the systems? Did the call taker enter the right information? Follow the right protocols? Dispatch the right assistance to the right location?
  • Enhanced performance assessment – following on the above point, PSAPs should select a solution that enables them to review and assess the call taker’s quality of response involving all forms of incoming data, including 9-1-1 calls, text, video, radio communications and GIS.
  • Targeted coaching and training – Next generation QA systems can easily identify call taker knowledge gaps so supervisors can provide needs-based coaching and training to groups or specific call takers.
  • Skills monitoring – Next generation QA systems can help supervisors track how well call takers and dispatchers are acquiring new skills and adhering to procedures related to Text-to-911 and NG9-1-1. This is not only important to provide the public with the standard of service they expect, but also to ensure compliance with a growing number of regulations.
  • Activity reporting – Next generation QA systems can provide insight into the volume of phone calls and radio communications a PSAP handles to support more efficient and cost-effective staffing decisions.
  • QA reporting – Through enhanced reporting capabilities, next generation QA systems can provide managers with informed insight on the quality and productivity performance of the PSAP and each individual staff member.

With these capabilities, a picture quickly emerges as to the necessity for next generation QA. Next generation QA can ensure that everyone is performing at the required levels and has the proper the training. It can have an impact on operations and even help reduce expenses – a valuable benefit given the constricting budgets and new requirements NG9-1-1 imposes.

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Getting PSAP Telecommunicators Up-to-Speed with NG9-1-1

The obvious answer to the question of how we get our PSAP call takers ready to handle NG9-1-1 is training. But that really is the first step. It will take continued learning, reinforcement and guidance over time to become truly proficient with all of the new systems, procedures and regulations. Reporting is going to play a big part as well by providing information on trends, resource utilization, overall performance and much more.

To be effective though, reports must provide for the ability to drill down to results for a single question or area, on both group and individual basis. Next generation QA allows PSAP managers to do exactly that. 

Additionally, some of the most effective learning occurs by example. There is a vast difference between reading about something and experiencing or seeing it first-hand. Next generation QA solutions allow PSAPs to use captured incidents as learning and training tools. A supervisor can pinpoint where a 9-1-1 call went extraordinarily well or swerved off course, and then use these real-life examples for one-on-one coaching or classroom training.


Maintaining Compliance

As mentioned before, NG9-1-1 will bring a host of new standards that PSAPs will need to comply with. CALEA accreditation and APCO 33 are additional considerations as well as the upcoming NENA standards for QA. As the industry progresses to NG9-1-1, compliance will only become more complex and necessary. QA evaluations will need to be done regularly, both for call takers and radio dispatchers. Beyond performing these evaluations, it will be important for PSAPs to be able to maintain and prove their compliance with regulations.

Next generation QA solutions will help PSAPs maintain compliance by automating evaluations according to requirements. Taking it a step further, PSAPs will also be able to generate reports to verify the frequency and type of evaluations, along with subsequent steps taken to remedy any flagged situations. While this may seem time consuming and daunting, especially for those evaluated, it is actually less so than traditional QA methods.

Firstly, the automation of QA creates a seamless process, and since evaluations are random and done during the course of a workday, there is no disruption. Furthermore, the system can provide direct feedback to those being evaluated, which allows the individual better understanding of any issues along with the ability to take corrective action, even in real time.


Simplifying Complexity 

The role of the PSAP has always been complex, but with Next Generation 9-1-1 and public safety broadband on the horizon, it will become even more so. Technology is creating this complexity. But with next generation QA, technology is also the means to simplify it. Using next generation QA, PSAPs can optimize operations on many levels by establishing KPIs (key performance indicators) and consistently measuring performance against them. They can also more easily gauge call taker training needs and track their skill acquisition progress, while gaining a broad and comprehensive view of the entire PSAP’s service quality and performance. And finally, using next generation QA PSAPs will be able to more readily achieve compliance with growing requirements and regulations in what will undoubtedly become an increasingly complex call handling environment.


Diamond Chaflawee is Director of Marketing and Business Development for Public Safety sector for NICE Systems, Inc. Diamond has more than 10 years of experience working for organizations in the public safety and government sectors. Diamond developed the NICE Inform technology which provides an automated way for 9-1-1 centers to manage and reproduce multimedia information. NICE Inform has been adopted by thousands of Public Safety sites worldwide.  For more information see

Photo: Las Vegas Fire Rescue. R.D.Larson/9-1-1 Magazine file photo.


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