The road to progress

How would you feel if you went in for your state licensing exam to become a dog groomer and failed? You studied all the styling standards for different breeds. You know your grooming styles for different breeds. You know how to bathe the dogs to perfection and are a nail cutting phenom! But you still failed. Forget about it...become a 911 telecommunicator instead! Your state requires no experience and no training! Sounds crazy, doesn’t it?

My apologies for minimizing the service provided by professionals in the pet grooming industry, but our society is waking up to the fact that a well-trained and certified 911 workforce and its life saving capabilities deserve the same level of professionalism, uniformity and citizen oversight as many other occupations whose impact on human life is seemingly insignificant in comparison. From my vantage point of traveling the country for the last few years in the aftermath of my wife’s tragic, preventable death, the answer is crystal clear. The overwhelming majority of citizens in this country believe that ALL 911 telecommunicators are already required to be highly trained and certified.

The Denise Amber Lee Foundation has been extremely busy this past year with the painful duty of being the horrifying example of the 911 system failure to emphasize the importance of a uniform 911 training national standard. The momentum for this long overdue missing piece of emergency response is gathering steam. In our home state of Florida, the already-passed Denise Amber Lee Act requiring 232 hours of training and passage of a state exam took effect on October 1, 2012. Arkansas saw a uniform training standard adopted by the state legislature. On Dec. 13, 2012, the Emergency 9-1-1 Service Standards of Training for 911 operators in Michigan were filed with the secretary of state and took immediate effect. The rules, the first of their kind for 911 operators in Michigan, establish basic and advanced training, as well as continuing education requirements for 911 operators statewide.

In April of last year, I had the privilege of being invited to lend a voice to the New Hampshire effort for a uniform training standard. I gave about an hour keynote presentation to the state conference of the New Hampshire Emergency Dispatcher Association. Then-president Paul Bagley felt the time was right for a state standard, but was getting some push-back from state stakeholders. Conference attendees were voting later in the day on whether to pursue establishing a uniform training standard for state telecommunicators. After returning home to Florida, I received a letter from Mr. Bagley thanking us for our contributions to the conference. He wrote, “Thanks to your presentation, we passed the voluntary certification and training standard on a unanimous voice vote! Prior to you speaking, I was the lone voice in New Hampshire concerning the immediate need for training and certification standards for emergency dispatchers. Now I have the support within my organization to start moving forward. But more important than the story came the understanding of the need for more in-depth training toward an industry standard. Others now see what you and I see.”

Next stop, Washington state. The Washington State Chapters of the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials International and the National Emergency Number Association invited the Denise Amber Lee Foundation to give the opening keynote address at their annual state 911 conference and training symposium in Kennewick, Wash. They have made passage of a 911 training and certification bill in their state a legislative priority.

On to Illinois. In October, members of the Illinois Public Safety Telecommunicator Training and Certification Initiative Committee and the Denise Amber Lee Foundation met for a couple hours at the headquarters of Motorola Solutions in Schaumburg, Ill. The standard is close to completion, and we offered successful strategies used in Florida for passage of the Denise Amber Lee Act. Illinois committee members hope to use similar strategies when their bill is filed in the Illinois General Assembly in the near future.

Now in 2013

We are working on two very exciting national initiatives that hold promise of guiding states to a uniform level of service and proficiency in the nation’s emergency communications centers. We are part of a 911 industry-wide consortium creating a “Standard for Quality Assurance and Quality Improvement within the Public Safety Communications Center.” This standard defines the industry recommended minimum components of a Quality Assurance/Quality Improvement (QA/QI) program within a Public Safety Communications Center, and recommends effective procedures for implementing the components of the QA/QI program to evaluate performance of public safety communications personnel. The goal is to have this standard formally introduced to the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and be developed into an ANSI recognized standard.

On April 11,the Denise Amber Lee Foundation will participate in a Telecommunicator Training Standards Forum hosted by the National 911 Program. The forum will consist of key 911 professionals and stakeholders to discuss the process for establishing the minimum, national-level guidelines for the training of 911 telecommunicators, managers, authorities and technical support personnel.

The invitation states that presently, while some training and standards exist, there is an opportunity to define how nationwide training standards, minimum guidelines, or requirements could be implemented. It goes on to state, without this, a lack of uniformity and service delivery will persist now and during the transition to Next Generation 911.

To me, it is no different traveling from one PSAP jurisdiction to another than flying from one air traffic control zone to another. There MUST be a uniform set of training standards and procedures to assure an equal level of service nationwide.

The air traffic control industry figured this out successfully years ago. Why is the 911 industry so late in recognizing this essential need? Let’s hope in the near future when your loved ones are traveling far from home and dial that familiar, “universal number” in their time of need, they will receive a “universal level of service”. Liz Jones, State Telecommunication Training Coordinator for the State of Arkansas said, “I have to tell you that without Denise’s tragedy, I doubt that Arkansas would have ever gotten training for our telecommunicators”.

Let’s not sacrifice one more loved one as collateral damage to mediocre training.