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911 telecommunicator training takes center stage in many states

by Urgent Communications contributor
May 11, 2017

The effort to enhance 911 telecommunicator training to ensure a more consistent standard of care is gaining momentum.

Haight said that the guidelines provided a very effective benchmark, something that other public-safety officials echoed. One is Jill Rohret, executive director of the Metropolitan Emergency Service Board (MESB) that oversees 9-1-1 services and provides direction to PSAPs across the nine counties that surround the twin cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, which adopted new training guidelines for telecommunicators on January 1, 2017.

“When we saw what the national group came up with in terms of the training topics and … that they were pretty much the same [as ours], that created a comfort level for everyone,” Rohret said.

The Kansas 911 Coordinating Council found itself in similar circumstances when the national guidelines were announced. The Council adopted new training standards in October 2014 that will take effect next year. These standards outline the topics that should be covered in the first 40 and 80 hours of training but give PSAPs some latitude in developing their own training programs, so they can make adjustments that address local needs and circumstances. The Council’s authority to create the standards is granted by state law.

“We compared the national guidelines with what we did and found that we were in alignment,” said Ellen Wernicke, who chairs the Council’s training subcommittee and is director of Johnson County Emergency Management and Communications.

Like Idaho, Kansas has chosen to eschew a grandfather clause, so all telecommunicators in the state will be subject to the new guidelines and be required to take a certification test. The thinking behind this decision is that a standard level of service is needed statewide, so anyone who answers a 9-1-1 in Kansas should meet the standards, according to Wernicke.

“That’s why we built in the timeline that we did, so that they can get up to speed,” Wernicke said. “We want to help every PSAP to be a professional organization, and that requires consistent standards across the board. No matter if you’re in the eastern or western part of the state, or served by a large or small PSAP, we want to make sure you receive the same level of service.”

In Indiana, the Statewide 911 Board provided $1.5 million in funding during the  last fiscal year to support basic training for all 2,000 telecommunicators in the state. The board hopes to increase funding in this fiscal year to support basic training for supervisors and continuing education for telecommunicators, particularly as it relates to handling discipline-specific calls, such as law enforcement, fire and emergency medical services (EMS).

The basic training curriculum for telecommunicators will mirror the national guidelines, said Barry Ritter, executive director of the Statewide 911 Board.

“The idea was, let’s not reinvent the wheel,” Ritter said. “The board had no interest in writing our own curriculum when national experts already had done it for us.”

One of those experts is Michael Snowden--executive director of the Hamilton County Public Safety Communications Department--who was a member of the national guidelines working group. Snowden has been assisting the Statewide 911 Board in developing the structure for Indiana’s training program.

“Mike’s involvement in developing the national guidelines gave us an immediate comfort level, in terms of adopting them for our program,” Ritter said.

According to Snowden, the training will consist of a five-day, 40-hour program that will be conducted regionally. Each region will choose one of three national providers—the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials (APCO), PowerPhone and Priority Dispatch—to conduct the training. Nineteen carefully selected counties will serve as hosts.

“We wanted to ensure that no telecommunicator had to travel more than an hour to the nearest host site, to avoid overnight expenses,” Snowden said. 

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