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Embracing Call Assessment as a PSAP Management Tool

Author: Jerry Turk, President, PowerPhone

Copyright: 9-1-1 Magazine, Feature Content

Date: 2016-06-27
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Measuring Performance to Drive Improvement

Measurement is key to evaluating success throughout the public safety industry. PSAPs measure response times, call abandon rates and a multitude of other metrics like employee attrition rate or average length of time to dispatch. But, when it comes to handling 9-1-1 calls themselves – to the moments between call pick up and release – many agencies are left scratching their heads on what to measure, or worse, outsource their operations under the cover of “quality assurance” simply to attain a score that proves they’ve done their due diligence. For so many PSAPs, this is a missed opportunity.

9-1-1 call assessment should measure an agency against its own self-identified standard of care to reveal their overall call-handling consistency, adherence to identified objectives and employee performance levels. Careful analysis of these measurements reveals powerful data that can be used to strengthen ongoing operations, lower employee burn out and energize continuing education and training programs.


Making the Mental Shift

Embracing call assessment as a PSAP management tool requires a mental shift to acknowledge that assessment itself isn’t the end of the process – agencies shouldn’t consider call assessment activities as “going back over something,” but should instead treat call assessment as its own active program that contributes strongly to an exceptional 9-1-1 call handling operation. Making this mental shift allows a PSAP’s culture to shift away from using quality assurance as a way to play “gotcha” and towards using call assessment to improve call-handling consistency and strengthen PSAP operations.


What Does a Strong Call Assessment Program Look Like?

Three traits of a strong call assessment program include:

  1. Unlocking learning opportunities for PSAP Directors and call handlers.
  2. Replacing Call Handlers’ defensiveness with proactive and professional objectivity.
  3. Mitigating risks and limiting agency liability.

When each of these three traits is present, you will have replaced a burdensome compliance mandate with a powerful management tool that reinforces and measures the way you want to run your PSAP.

Following are examples of how each trait improves a call center’s review process:

Unlocking Learning Opportunities for PSAP Directors and Call Handlers

While every call is a potential learning opportunity, some calls have more training value than others, and this varies wildly based on community lifestyle and demographics. Successful call assessment programs provide staff with the flexibility to prioritize review for their community’s most pressing call types.

The most valuable calls for training purposes should be shared throughout the PSAP, not only reviewed by a supervisor and the Call Handler who took the call. This shift allows the most important lessons to be learned agency-wide, and utilizes peer-to-peer learning, a proven method for increasing training retention.

Sharing calls throughout the PSAP also allows every caller to benefit from the lessons learned in rarely-occurring instances like a suicidal caller, woman in labor or an example of the dreaded 300 call syndrome.

Expanding the scope of call assessment also provides great opportunities for identifying performance trends in the PSAP. Identifying and monitoring these trends provides measurable proof for managers to use when making a case for improved or modified resources.

Creating an Open Culture to Replace Call Handlers’ Defensiveness with Proactive and Professional Objectivity

A traditional “quality assurance” approach only tells you if you have or haven’t met a pre-defined standard. A ”call assessment” approach rounds out that picture by examining call-handling performance to provide both the tools to identify when things need to change and the knowledge to understand where to look when things need to change. Instead of playing out as a game of “gotcha,” call assessment in an open culture includes more people in the assessment process and encourages constructive feedback to grow the organization.

Call assessment responsibilities should also be shared among the many members of a PSAP. Empowering each employee with some level of influence or authority in call assessment has a transformative effect on how quality assurance is perceived and on the employee’s personal engagement in quality assurance and assessment operations.

Documenting Results to Mitigate Risks and Limit Liability

Call assessment programs provide documented proof that an agency is meeting, or taking steps towards meeting, their standard of care. This documentation is a powerful tool for both limiting agency liability and for demonstrating the agency’s value to the community. Many communities also find creative ways to benefit from call assessment data in areas outside of the PSAP, such as in anticipating hospital staffing levels or calibrating law enforcement response policies.

Call assessment also provides powerful support for in-house processes and procedures if they are challenged in court. This can be the difference between saying how your operations work and showing how your operations work.

Using call assessment as a management tool professionalizes a PSAP and helps limit overall liability because the entire assessment operation is focused around meeting and improving that specific agency’s standard of care, not just proving compliance with a generic template.


Good Directors have a vision of how their PSAPs should be run. Call assessment supports that vision as a powerful management tool holding emergency call handling up to an in-house standard and proactively investing more staff into ongoing improvement activities.

Call assessment can be a PSAP’s most powerful managerial tool. I encourage every PSAP to incorporate an active call assessment approach into their operations. 


Jerry Turk is responsible for the leadership and oversight of PowerPhone’s senior management team and executing the company’s strategic initiatives. He is the co-inventor of Computer Aided Call Handling and Incident Linked Multimedia and holds several U.S. patents. He has served on a number of professional committees, including the NENA QA/QI Standards Workgroup. Hailing from England, Jerry previously served as the civilian project manager for Dorset Police, as well as spending 20 years in the ambulance service. For more information on PowerPhone, see:

PSAP photos by Randall Larson/9-1-1 Magazine file photos



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