Browse Content by Topic:
So, How Are You Doing? Measuring Performance One Call at a Time
Author: Barry Furey
Copyright: 9-1-1 Magazine, Feature Content
Quality Assurance. Quality Control. Quality Management. It is known by many names, but the purpose remains the same: the establishment of a formalized process or processes by which performance can be reviewed, measured, and ultimately improved. Whether this program is created reactively as the result of an incident, or proactively in a desire to meet standards and provide better service is immaterial. Of greatest importance is that the system works.
If you utilize call handling protocols, whether they are promulgated by a vendor or homegrown, and you don’t have some sort of quality review process, then you’re not really using protocols at all. Having a decision tree that you may or may not follow is worse than not having one whatsoever. Regardless of what procedures you have in place, there is obvious benefit in insuring that things are done correctly. Since one goal of any quality improvement initiative is to reduce complaints, in the end it’s preferable for us to identify our baby as being ugly, if that in fact is the case.
The Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA) speaks to the need for mandatory “quality checks” in all three of their communications center classifications. The applicable standard reads:
6.1.5 A written directive establishes a quality assurance program, and includes at a minimum:
- documented quality checks of employees’ call taking and dispatch performance;
- frequency and quantity of quality checks
- process for telecommunicator feedback; and
- management reporting and review process.
CALEA stops short of specifying how an agency must carry out this task, and for good reason. There are a number of methods that have been used successfully, both as stand-alone solutions, and in combination with others. Proprietary vendor software designed to operate in conjunction with recorders or other hardware is one option for monitoring calls. Third party applications are designed to do the same across a variety of platforms. Home-grown programs, adaptations of common office automation products, and even manual checklists may suffice for smaller agencies.
While having quality checks is obviously important, so too is having an effective and defensible process. To this end, the following considerations must apply your design, at minimum:
- Written guidelines must exist that spell out the nature and application
- Processes by which these guidelines are regularly reviewed must be identified
- Reviews must be random
- Each employee must have a reasonably equivalent number of calls reviewed
- Sufficient calls must be reviewed to provide an accurate sample
- Both telephone and radio interactions must be monitored (if applicable)
- Where CAD or other records are reviewed, these must be identified
What can we learn from our efforts? Well, if a problem rests with a single employee, this becomes pretty clear. Further comparison can also determine if an issue repeats within a particular shift or shifts. This can be the result of a failure of supervision. Time of day related deficiencies are often indicative of call volumes that overwhelm staffing, and those that occur at shift change suggest an improper exchange of information. Common causes here are the minute men and women who try to get to work under the wire like some singularly focused ebay bidder attempting to snag a bargain in the last lingering nanosecond. Cutting it close has its costs. Even during quiet shifts a reasonable amount of time is required to complete a meaningful exchange. Problems related to a particular class of call can be caused by improper training, or by faulty procedures themselves. If your staff is following protocol yet still not getting appropriate results, it’s time to pick up your SOPs (Standard Operational Procedures) and break out the red pen. It may be a classic case of repeatedly doing things the same way while expecting the results to change.
Perhaps the most pernicious question that arises as part of a quality assurance process is what to do about mistakes discovered that were not the cause of a citizen or agency complaint. Should they become the catalyst for official disciplinary action? Many tread cautiously here, trying to dispel employees’ concerns about QA being a “witch hunt.” While I can sympathize with this school of thought, I can’t endorse it. I’ve heard some administrators say that they would not raise concern lest those aggrieved by the initial incident find out and decide to take further action. While this could potentially occur, we have to ask if this is a worse outcome than the offended party or parties discovering that we found a problem then consciously decided to ignore it? To my way of thinking, it seems that the latter course of inaction opens up valid questions concerning our ability to self-police.
One final word about quality improvement is the need to stay the course. Don’t necessarily expect change to come overnight. As Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle.“ In 9-1-1, as in life, you have to want to make it happen.
With more than 45 years’ experience in public safety, including managing large consolidated dispatch centers in three states, Barry Furey now serves as a trainer and consultant for the 9-1-1 and public safety communications community. See www.barryfurey.com