Working in an emergency communications center means working within a para-military structure. Like military personnel, police telecommunications operators follow written policies and procedures, operate within an established chain-of-command and are evaluated by a standard report. Liability issues consistently create updates on how personnel should handle their responsibilities. Everyone from the Director down to the new trainee follows out-lined rules. We all are dependents in this environment.
On the other hand, the calls and radio traffic we handle consist of many different scenarios. No two calls are the same. We must adjust, adapt and make decisions quickly. This creates independence within the dependent environment. Although many communications operators balance successfully under these circumstances, many lean too heavily on one side or the other. Assisting in re-creating the balance for these operators rests with the employees, trainers and supervisors.
She's so Bossy
We all know him or her. She's the operator who always does things her way. Creating dominance within her space, she clearly defines her "territory". This includes the physical area around her as well as her space on the phone or the radio. A lot of time an overly-independent operator has been working in this job for ages. She can usually tell you, and often does, about how it used to be. She could also be new; someone who is naturally dominant. Either way, it can create problems.
Asking for Help
Asking for help, getting advice or validating a decision, however you put it, utilizing the resources around you is necessary to doing a good job. Co-workers, supervisors and professionals in the field all can offer a balanced way of handling any situation. Listening to those around you and weighing their advice can help open your eyes to new and better ways of doing things. Nobody expects you to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders. Police telecommunications work is a partnership and you don't have to make every decision on your own. If a situation is getting beyond your control (often this reveals itself in that uncomfortable, fight-or-flight feeling you get like you're teetering on the edge of a deep ravine), speak up. Let your supervisor know you need someone to help handle the phone or to do the record checks the officers are asking for. You're not showing weakness. You are ensuring the safety of everyone involved.
Doing things your Way All the Time
Communications operators thrive on routine. We learn how to handle situations mechanically. "725J, traffic stop, copy. Running the plate." "835L, you have a combative prisoner. I'll notify the jail." This consistency is both comforting and keeps things uniform. The problem arises when you aren't willing to be flexible and adjust to changes. Replying to a new rule with "We've always done it that way," indicates both naivety (has it really been done that way since the beginning of the agency?) and stagnancy (emergency communications is a constantly changing operation). One way to keep from succumbing to this attitude is to keep current on policies and procedures. Make it a habit to read through your agency's SOP each year and actually read the memos and up-dates handed out. Knowing what is expected of you and what changes were necessary to assist the agency's purpose can assist you with being flexible and make doing things your way and doing things the right way concur. Trainers can help with this by reinforcing the reasons behind policies and procedures, explaining liability and nurturing an environment of cooperation.
She so Passive
On the other end of the spectrum, is the emergency communications operator who sits stunned any time something new (to her) occurs on the phone or radio. If she could, she would have a book out-lining every scenario imaginable with a step-by-step guide explaining how to handle it. Again, communications is a constantly changing organism. The calls and radio traffic all have their own nuances. Nothing is quite the same. Due to this, an inability to adjust and overcome can be un-balanced and detrimental.
Afraid to Make a Decision
As an emergency communications operator, you are required to make decisions quickly. When citizens call 9-1-1, they need to be told what to do. If they knew what to do, they wouldn't be calling. Officers also need you to be able to take the information they've given you and make a decision on how best to handle the situation and meet their needs. Allow co-workers, supervisors and officers to guide you. If you don't know what you should do, ask. Just remember communications is a fast-paced environment and often you need to do something. Fall back on your training and make the best decision you can, quickly. Again, keeping current on policies and procedures and best practices will assist you. If personal confidence is an issue, take an assertiveness class. In your downtime, go over different scenarios and figure out how to handle them when they come up.
Unable to be Flexible
Like the too-independent dispatcher, over-dependent operators struggle to be flexible. If a situation doesn't match one you've out-lined in your head, you try to find a comparable situation and follow the actions associated with that one. Sometimes this works; more often not. Learning to adapt and be flexible is key to being successful. Again, ask for help, follow the SOP and practice scenarios before they happen. You won't be able to find a meticulous how-to for everything, but the more you think about what could happen, the easier it will be to adapt and overcome when it does. Use confident (not bossy) co-workers as trainers. Listen to tapes. Trust your instincts.
Trainers can help with this by allowing their trainee to make decisions. Asking, "What do YOU think you should do?" is a big help. If it doesn't threaten safety, allow them to muddle through every situation. This will build confidence that will follow them out on their own.
The range of personalities and abilities run the gamut in emergency communications. Some operators are naturally more confident, while others can be meek and unsure of themselves. Supervisors can strike a balance by making sure policies and procedures are up-to date and available. Know where the information is before an employee asks, or offer to find out and get back to them. Keeping things consistent with a structure to follow allows operators to do their job independently in this dependent environment. Don't be afraid to lead. Quality control is part of your job. Striking a balance in 9-1-1 or the radio room keeps things consistent and running smoothly. It ensures quality service to internal and external customers. It keeps people safe. It helps people. Isn't that what most of us picked this job for in the first place?