One major organization is the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO). In August, 2000, APCO formed the Communications Center Staffing Crisis Task Force. Focusing on recruitment and retention, the task force recommended several solutions in their guideline, Best Practices. After being presented to the APCO Executive Council, Project RETAINS (Responsive Efforts To Address Integral Needs in Staffing, formerly known as Project 40) was established. Currently partnered with the Denver Research Institute (DRI), the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) and the Department of Transportation (DOT), Project RETAINS' members are researching and developing a national standard for communication centers in the United States. In the meantime, Project RETAINS has a few practical suggestions to address problems now:
- Recruitment of 9-1-1/PSCC must be positive, proactive, deliberate and accentuate the public safety, public service, and exciting, life-saving, unique and personally satisfying aspects of the job.
- Utilize appealing, descriptive materials, i.e. announcements, applications, placards, photographs, brochures, videos, public service announcements.
- 9-1-1/PSCC personnel success stories of lives saved, unusual stories, etc. should be heralded in the media so that the public understands more fully the important role 9-1-1 calltakers and dispatchers play.
- Basic compensation should also consider and be "benchmarked" to other jobs in the private sector that require similar skill, ability, responsibility, authority, training and certification.
- Consider having higher rates of basic pay and overtime pay apply when working with less than pre-established staffing levels.
- 9-1-1/Public Safety Supervisors, Managers, and Directors should make every effort and seize every opportunity using every means available to bring positive recognition for both daily routine jobs done well and exceptional performance.
- Allow for employee breaks.
- Utilize work schedules that consider agency and employee personal and family needs.
- Show sensitivity to the need for employees to take leave.
Most emergency communications operators love their work. Helping citizens and officers on a daily basis gives them a sense of purpose and satisfaction. Although staffing shortages may strain the relationship between a dispatcher and her job, many solutions exist. Law enforcement agencies and organizations are working together to find answers. Emergency communication operators can help too. Talk positively to others about your work, encourage quality individuals to apply and assist in committees designed to address staffing concerns. Very few jobs are as rewarding as emergency communications. When staffing issues begin to encroach on the rewards, instead of complaining, fix it.