A problem long has existed in the 911 community, which is that telecommunicators working in emergency communications centers (ECCs) from coast to coast are wrongly classified by the federal government. This has a profoundly negative effect on their self-esteem, compensation, and career development.
The National 911 Program created a toolkit, with Mission Critical Partners’ help, to address this. More on that soon — but first a little history.
The Standard Occupational Classification System maintained by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) continues to place telecommunicators in the category of “office and administrative support occupation.” This is the same category in which mail clerks, secretaries, office clerks, typists, meter readers, telephone operators, mail carriers, file clerks, bank tellers, gambling cage workers, and the like are classified.
It is easy to understand why this was the case when 911 service first emerged in the United States, which occurred in 1968. Back then, it was common for a secretary in a sheriff’s office to answer a telephone call for assistance, take a few notes, and then pass the information along to a deputy or perhaps a dispatcher. This would explain why the profession originally was classified with other clerical-type professions.
But that was then, and this is now. The telecommunicator role has expanded greatly over the last half century. Telecommunicators handle emergency calls and dispatch the appropriate response, or course. But they also work with sophisticated communications systems — e.g., computer-aided dispatch, geographic information, and automatic vehicle location — to ensure that the closest available unit is sent to an emergency and that responders receive optimal situational awareness that enables them to perform their duties to the highest possible degree and keeps them safer.
And with the advent of next generation 911 (NG911) systems, telecommunicators will have to deal with a torrent of additional data — generated by sensor systems, intelligent devices, alarm systems, and wearable biometrics monitors — that will increase their duties and responsibilities exponentially.
That doesn’t sound like a clerical worker, does it? I didn’t think so.
The BLS is focused on data-driven statistics that support reclassification. To accomplish this, some work at the local level is needed to demonstrate — through updated job descriptions, training expectations, and operational changes — that telecommunicator reclassification is warranted. If this sounds like a call to action, well, it is.
Fortunately, the 911 community seems to have an important ally in this effort. In April 2021, the “Supporting Accurate Views of Emergency Services Act of 2021” (911 SAVES Act) was introduced into the Senate and House. The legislation — which appears to have bipartisan support — would reclassify telecommunicators under the category of “protective service occupations,” which is how law enforcement and fire/rescue personnel are classified. The rationale is that telecommunicators are the first of the first responders. While this is encouraging and long overdue, it should be noted that the same bill was introduced in 2019 — and died on the vine. So, we’ll see.
In the meantime, the National 911 Program is trying to move things along by developing the aforementioned toolkit, which is designed to enable ECCs to demonstrate to the BLS that reclassifying telecommunicators makes perfect sense. The toolkit contains four downloadable chapters:
- Developing a Public Safety Telecommunicator Job Description
- Establishing and Expanding a Public Safety Telecommunicator Training Program
- The Operational Integration of Technology and Tools
- Developing a Legislative Strategy for Reclassification
All of the chapters are vitally important, but the first two really stand out because ECCs need to change their hiring practices to not only reflect the current environment but also to prepare for what’s coming. Reclassification is about a lot more than changing a job title.
With an eye toward telecommunicator development, also check out the informational magazine that the program released earlier this year, the NG911 Guide for Telecommunicators. It helps explain how the continued advancement of NG911 will improve public safety and enable the delivery of additional information that can help telecommunicators better help those in need.
We would welcome the opportunity to help you develop your strategies for developing your telecommunicators and getting the BLS to classify them properly — please reach out.
Jackie Mines is a senior communications consultant who supports the National 911 Program. She can be emailed at JackieMines@MissionCriticalPartners.com.