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Dispatcher Awards and Rewards Explored

Author: Barry Furey

Copyright: 9-1-1 Magazine, Feature Content,

Date: 2015-01-30
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It’s been over a year since I posted the poem The Pachyderm in the PSAP which lamented the state of telecommunications. I’m sad to say that 2014 did not bring us significant progress on these lingering issues. In fact, things may have gotten worse. The long anticipated text-to 9-1-1 activation arrived at our doorstep like an electronic Ghost of Christmas Present. While I don’t foresee an avalanche of calls, I can tell you that the center I directed received more than a flurry. My biggest concern is that we have dumped another task and skillset on a group of people who are already overworked.

I’ve spent the last month transitioning from the public to the private sector; retiring from my position as Director of a large PSAP to one as a consultant and trainer. Spending the holidays with my kids and having some well-needed downtime has afforded me an opportunity to reflect upon this business of saving lives; one that I have been proud to be a part of for forty-five years. Changes? I’ve seen a few. Back in the good old days, besides walking twenty miles uphill to and from work, we looked up vehicle registrations through manually searching stubs in file drawers. An out of state tag required a hard copy message to the appropriate state motor vehicle office, which likely was closed nights, holidays, and weekends.

I’ve seen pagers, portable radios, and PDAs come and grow, along with CAD, EFD, EMD, EPD, GA, MDTs, PANI, SK, XYZ and a plethora of alphabet soup abbreviations enter our vocabularies, and there’s doubtless more than that to come. An almost unbelievable amount of change has come our way, requiring a great deal of coordination between public safety, manufacturers, and the public. Was all of it good? Probably not. And you will likely get some disagreement on what was good and what was not depending upon who was asked. But I think the weakest link in all of that remains the PSAP. No, not the Public Safety Answering Point, but rather the Poor Suckers who Answer the Phones.

Now, I have no idea who coined the latter term, or when, but I do know that it’s been around long enough to, by itself, signal a systemic problem. Our electronics have moved ahead at a lightning pace. Our employees remain firmly grounded. Which brings me to the focus of this blog: How do we fix this?” Clearly, large scale reform in retirement and other benefits may require, at least, action on a state level. And since PSAPs (by both definitions!) have not been historically good lobbyists, maybe the first task to be undertaken is to fix the things that you can fix. These are typically found within your own four walls.

A PSAP manager (again, by both definitions) recently queried a list server regarding parameters that could be used for employee awards and rewards. This is obviously a great first step. So here are some bullet items to explore when considering such a task:

  • The program itself needs to be clearly defined, as do the criteria for receiving awards. Some may be simply years of service, attendance, or milestone based. The online discussion centered on recognition for cardiac saves and childbirth. Some codicils included the survival of the patient, the active role of the call taker in providing instruction to a non-professional prior to the arrival of first responders, and the adherence to procedures. In other words, rewards for exemplary handling of calls require that the telecommunicator is an active participant in a positive outcome, and not just someone who happened to answer the phone.
  • There needs to be a defendable method for nominating and selecting recipients. Will it be a totally management based process, or is input allowed and encouraged from co-workers and user agencies? Regardless of the ground rules, these in particular need to be monitored to avoid abuse. I’ve seen a few occasions where nominations were placed for other than appropriate reasons.
  • To make it work, there has to be buy-in. If you’ve never seen a healthy initiative sabotaged by unhealthy people, then you’ve never lived. Unless staff feels that there is value in the awards, and unless naysayers are kept in check, you’re doomed before you begin. Some folks are honestly shy about public recognition. Others may feel that getting an award for what “they are supposed to do anyway” isn’t needed. You’ll find an equally vocal group asking why an award was given to someone when they got no recognition for doing something a bazillion times better just last week. I once had the wife of an awardee ask her husband, “Whose butt did you have to kiss to get this?” at the ceremony. Just keep reminding yourself that you are doing the right thing.
  • The form of reward is also critical. What can you legally provide? What can you fiscally provide? There may be limitations to both. However, much of what can be done doesn’t necessarily require tons of money. Desktop publishing can be used to create professional looking certificates, and local firms and online sites can be excellent sources for more traditional plaques and keepsakes.
  • Where and how to present the accolade may be determined by the dimensions of the deed.  Announcing it during a shift meeting may be appropriate for some situations, but not for major achievements. Since all agencies eventually report to some governing body, and since all governing bodies hold meetings, there is typically at least one built-in public forum for the ceremony. And who doesn’t love positive publicity?
  • Getting the word out is the final aspect in planning to be discussed, and making contact with local civic and fraternal organizations is a good start. Many provide platforms for recognition of “heroes,” and unless we continually look upon our folks as such, it’s pretty obvious that no one else will. Contacts with local media (or an appropriate Public Information Officer) are important, but never underestimate the power of social media. If you’re not using Facebook, Twitter, and other methods of interactive public engagement, you’re missing the boat on this and other vitally important opportunities.

Although it’s critically important to work cooperatively on what are truly global issues, this can’t be done without also addressing issues on a local scale. After all, the only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.

Our 9-1-1 Center Management columnist Barry Furey has been involved in public safety for more than 45 years, having managed 9-1-1 centers in four states. A life member of APCO International, he recently retired as the director of the Raleigh-Wake County (NC) Emergency Communications Center. He can be reached at barryfurey@yahoo.com.

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