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A Case For Quality Assurance
Author: Bruce Thorburn & Steve Craig
Copyright: 9-1-1 Magazine, Feature Content
Photo by Randall D. Larson
With the advent of either elective or mandatory certification of Telecommunicators (e.g. call takers and dispatchers), there is a definite need to be aware that to ensure a successful ongoing plan for this impact on E9-1-1 centers (PSAPs), rules should be adopted that institute quality assurance requisites for both the program itself as well as for the certified personnel. Without continued bench measures the program is but a shell of the desired intent of the operational need.
Wikipedia identifies Quality Assurance as “…a program for the systematic monitoring and evaluation of the various aspects of a project, service, or facility to ensure that standards of quality are being met.”
Some mentioned characteristics for successful Quality Assurance are safety, reliability, and maintainability. Consideration of these elements as pertains to E9-1-1 Systems requires discussion.
Firstly, safety is the primary goal of E9-1-1 Systems. Timely, appropriate response for emergency calls saves lives and properties and is accomplished millions of times daily by dedicated professionals. Just as safety is the goal of E9-1-1 and the perception of the citizens and visitors needing this vital emergency communications network, it is also true that safety describes the integral parts of these networks which include hardware, software, data bases, and networks and how well the “certified” individuals work with these tools.
As critical as these elements are for the success of the mission, and are then critical for a successful quality assurance program, equally important to the success of a quality assurance program is recognizing that these professionals are human, with all of the human frailties. The quality assurance program should include aspects that evaluate both the work being done and the inner person of the telecommunicator.
Secondly, reliability of the program oversight and testing for errors and omissions should be comprehensive and on a pre-determined schedule with a set of parameters that can be used to judge the efficacy of the program. There must be an annual scheduling of ‘x’ number of counties/PSAPs for call testing to ensure compliance with the established rules for call handling both in timeliness and expectations for handling. The results are forwarded to the individual authority(ies) for review and corrective measure (if any needed, based on the identified results).
Within the Rules developed, guidelines are needed that look at the way calls ‘should be handled’ (a minimum standard of acceptability) from end-to-end. These standards should include reasonable expectancy for timeliness in answering (this includes recognition of hardware, software, and network difficulties), identification or type of call, error adjustment for data failures, relay to dispatch (or dispatch handling), and effectiveness of handling to the emergency responder(s).
In addition, quality assurance includes the regular performance of the individual employees. There should be a reasonable expectation for call handling professionalism; and identification of errors, omissions, and failures (as well as successes) for each individual in order to identify management’s response for praise, remedial training, or termination. Indeed, a successful training program using comprehensive quality assurance will specify areas that support the training/re-training processes as well as provide sequential documentation for regular evaluation of the individual based both on the standards devised and relative to others performing the same tasks.
PSAPs must have a system in place that allows for the aggregation of an established “score” system which can be analyzed on both individual and group levels, such as shifts, squads, training classes, and other PSAPs. Recognizing trends within the scores that occur over different time periods provides vital data to ensure that the system is working.
It would also be beneficial to be able to view how individual telecommunicators handle the written portion of their function just as review of the audio can be reviewed. This enables agencies the ability to recognize the success or failure of the individual as they navigate through GIS and/or CAD systems efficiently and effectively. This not only speeds up the call handling and dispatch times; but also makes for a more well founded employee as they are more easily able to self-evaluate their performances.
Thirdly, maintainability is critical in an environment that is rampant with employee turnover and technological changes. Failure to continually test the facets of the program as well as the overall performance of the telecommunicators indicates a failure to establish a workable program for both today’s needs and for future considerations.
It is critical that these QA programs be fully automated in order to reduce call completion times. This will, as well, allow for comprehensive collection of data that can be used for system and individual evaluation, internal and external reporting, and manpower and budgetary justification.
It should also be noted that maintainability should include regular observance that Legislation and Rules may need to be created, changed, or deleted as the evolution of the program and the expectations for the individuals take effect.
The use of contractors or consultants to over-see the programs managers, especially due to new emergences of technologies and their impacts that may require relevant skills or expertise not readily available to the general state or county organization, may be deemed a fundable item as a part of the entire program agenda.
In conclusion, the development of programs for training/re-training certification adds a new dimension to E9-1-1. Failure to include a Quality Assurance program at the program and PSAP levels invites public criticism and the potential for agency liability.
Steve Craig is presently with Kova Corp. as VP of Sales in the southeast; he was formerly with PLANTCML for 14 years, with telephone company experience prior to that. Bruce Thorburn has been in the 9-1-1 Community since 1982, including five years with Orange County, Florida as their Database Manager, and 23 years with Lake County, Florida performing as E9-1-1/Addressing, Telecommunications, and Cable Television Regulatory Authority and Director. Bruce has also been the Legislative Liaison for Florida NENA since 1995 and been on the State Plan Technical Committee for Florida from its inception.