I met a state 911 leader at a conference where I was asked to speak and told him that I saw his state requires training. He looked at me oddly. Wanting to confirm, I asked, “Didn’t I read where your state mandates a certain number of hours of training?” He again looked at me oddly and said, “It says that in the legislative code but no one follows up to see if it is being done statewide. There are no exam requirements to assure proficiency. There is no continuing education required.”
As we went to additional states, this was a common concern in many of them. These conferences typically draw the best and brightest of 911. The majority of them are dedicated, conscientious professionals who train themselves and their employees way beyond any minimum standard. Unfortunately, the common concern among these professionals is they are in the minority of agencies within their state; this is a huge public safety issue.
Think about the amazing similarities between 911 service and the air traffic control system. When you board a plane in New York and fly to California, you travel through numerous air traffic control zones, but because of standardized training and procedures passage from one zone to another is seamless. In contrast, as in my wife’s case, her killer travelled through two counties and one municipality. Three separate PSAPs were involved with the 911 calls that night but because of differing levels of training and procedures, our story ends up on “Dateline NBC” and CNN as another unfortunate result of “human error.”
Let me say that I have never met a more compassionate and dedicated group of people than those that work in the 911 industry. They share our pain in the senseless loss of Denise and, in many ways, are more outraged that their industry let her down on that January day in 2008. To all of those in the police community who frantically looked for Denise that night and stood shoulder to shoulder with me as we combed the palmetto brush of Southwest Florida for two days looking for clues, thank you, thank you, thank you! I urge the public safety community to join us in saying, “enough is enough.”
Let’s dedicate our limited financial resources to our precious human resources first and provide our 911 telecommunicators with access to the extensive training and certification they deserve and the public expects. The more and better training these first responders experience, the less stress they will feel and the less turnover communication center directors will experience.
Requiring and ensuring proficiency through professional certification recognition will instill a broader sense of pride and dedication to the valuable role they play in public safety and again, reduce turnover. Keep that aging CAD system working until your people are trained. It is far more expensive to replace telecommunicators every year or so due to stress, burnout, lack of guidance or lack of training, than to replace your hardware every five years.