Updating Telecommunicator Standards and Training

    Training for Public Safety Telecommunicators, initial and continuing, is exceedingly important as they provide essential services to the public in an ever-expanding and rapidly changing public safety environment. Public Safety Communication Centers must provide training necessary for front-line communications professionals to be competent in the delivery of public safety communications services. Many centers have developed their own basic training materials and processes, while many others receive training from commercial providers, similar to the APCO Institute products and services. The APCO Project 33 Agency Training Program Certification is a formal mechanism for public safety agencies to certify their training programs as meeting American National Standards (ANS).

   The APCO P33 Training Program Certification -- Telecommunicator 2010 requires agencies to meet or exceed the APCO ANS 3.103.1-2010: Minimum Training Standards for Public Safety Telecommunicators. The standard specifies the minimum training requirements for call takers and dispatchers of law enforcement, fire services, and emergency medical services assigned to the public safety telecommunicator function. The program allows for customization depending on what services the agency provides. It also recognizes the need to supplement these basic competencies with agency-specific information and existing equipment-use parameters.

   The 2010 version of the Minimum Training Standards for public safety telecommunicators was in the final stages of the APCO ANS Process, an ANSI-accredited standards development process, at the time this article was written. Extensive research was completed in order to develop the content of the newly revised standard. Twelve occupational analysis workshops were conducted regionally throughout the nation, with one initial panel for each job function a telecommunicator may perform: call taker, law enforcement dispatcher, fire services dispatcher, and EMS dispatcher, and three validation panels for each of these positions. Each panel consisted of four to 12 high-performing incumbent workers who perform the duties of the position for which they were analyzing. This incorporated over 100 current public safety telecommunicators as subject matter experts from various types of agencies and regions.

   These standards serve as the foundation for the Telecommunicator 2010 certification program. Public Safety Telecommunicator Training Programs applying for certification focus on both new and veteran public safety telecommunicator needs. Telecommunicators are typically tasked with receiving, processing, transmitting, and conveying public safety information to dispatchers, law enforcement officers, fire fighters, emergency medical and emergency management personnel. Anyone adopting the standard must meet the requirements within the following sections: training program administration, organizational integrity, general knowledge and skills, tools, equipment and technology, and professional competence. Depending on what services the agency provides, the training program must incorporate the following sections: public safety call taker, law enforcement dispatcher, fire service dispatcher and EMS dispatcher.

   Each chapter of the standard communicates important items that need to be incorporated within the agency's training program. For example, the tools, equipment and technology chapter addresses the need for all telecommunicators (both new and veteran workers) to demonstrate proficiency on all appropriate tools, equipment and technology they may be expected to operate within the public safety communications center. It's important to remember these are voluntary minimum training standards; agencies throughout the nation should be, at the minimum, complying with each of these standards. Agencies that are P33 Training Program Certified -- Telecommunicator 2010 meet or exceed these standards. APCO's Call Center Standards Committee is developing a "Manager's Guide" referencing these standards to help agencies create training programs, further understand the requirements, provide examples and ideas to assist with saving money, and more.

   APCO listens to the public safety communications community and develops programs responding to the community's needs. The P33 Training Program Certification process is not complicated or costly. Centers apply for certification and submit their curriculum, training materials and supporting documentation for compliance review. Upon completion of this review, and verification that the training program does provide trainees with both the required content and focuses on the demonstration of decision and psychomotor skills cited within the standards, that version of the training program shall be approved and recognized as "APCO Project 33 Certified -- 2010 Telecommunicator." This certification will be valid for a period of three years and will require recertification on a three-year cycle thereafter. The certified agency will receive permission to use the correlating certification mark on the training program, Web site, uniforms and more.

   APCO continues to establish training standards to effectively prepare all responders to better understand their roles and responsibilities within both the public safety communications industry and public safety in general. The operational impact of expanding public policy and technology forces careful and timely review of these standards on a regular basis. The APCO ANS process requires every standard to be reviewed on a regular basis. The recertification requirements of this program are extremely important as they require agencies to evolve their training program accordingly.

   APCO also promotes networking and information sharing, especially regarding innovative training ideas and methods. This is even more important with the 2010 program as it requires 24 hours of continuing education for each Public Safety Telecommunicator. APCO recently launched PSConnect, an online collaboration site for public safety professionals, a perfect tool for sharing resources.

   Building and implementing a successful agency training program requires many resources and a good deal of dedication. Submitting for certification demonstrates the agency's commitment to training and to meeting national standards. Receiving certification for a training program is a major accomplishment for the agency, its staff and the community it serves.

   APCO suggests agencies encourage their staff to achieve APCO Project 33 Training Program Certification. The deadline to apply for certification and be recognized at the APCO Annual Conference & Exposition is April 1, 2011. If submitted before January 1, 2011 the application fee is discounted.

   Editor's note: APCO standards can be downloaded at www.apcostandards.org or e-mail standards@apcointl.org. PSConnect can be accessed at www.psconnect.org.

   With more than 31 years public safety communications experience, Bill Carrow is the APCO International president. His duties include administration of three 911 PSAPs, a computer data center and a communications technical support unit.