MCP Insights

New Podcast Offers Numerous Ideas to Solving the 911 Community’s Staffing Problems

Posted on February 4, 2022 by Glenn Bischoff

Dutch folklore recounts the story of a little boy who plugs a hole that formed in a dike, using only his finger, to keep his town from flooding — he stays in place through the night despite the cold and becomes a hero. If this story were applied to today’s 911 community, the boy would need to use multiple digits or would need a few of his pals to help out.

The 911 community is plagued by numerous problems, from a lack of funding to a staffing crisis to antiquated networks and systems to a lack of proper recognition to mission creep. Anyone one of these would be a problem but taken together they are a catastrophe. Let’s briefly examine the impact of each:
  • Funding — Many emergency communications centers struggle to maintain basic operations due to a lack of funding. Many also are unable to offer competitive compensation to telecommunicators and supervisors, which hinders recruitment and retention. In addition, they are unable to replace obsolete infrastructure, especially with Next Generation 911 technology.
  • Staffing — An acute shortage of telecommunicators exists from coast to coast. As a result, some ECCs are well short of the recommended number of personnel needed to meet industry call-handling standards, even when those positions have been authorized. When this happens, emergency response times rise — a bad outcome when lives are on the line and every second matters — and an already stressful job becomes more so because each telecommunicator has to handle more calls. Fatigue and burnout also become huge issues in this environment because telecommunicators often cannot take the time they need to address their health and well-being when they need to do so.
  • Obsolete infrastructure — It is not unusual to find ECCs that are using networks and systems that are decades old. This makes maintenance challenging because replacement parts are difficult to procure and/or the vendor has ended support. That is problematic by itself. But the real impact is that legacy 911 systems do not have the capabilities of NG911 systems, particularly when it comes to broadband and resiliency/redundancy. The sooner that the entire 911 community migrates to NG911 the better — but that of course is contingent on solving the funding problem.
  • Lack of proper recognition — The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in its Standard Occupational Classification System, classifies telecommunicators under the category of "office and administrative support occupations." This classification includes mail clerks, secretaries, office clerks, typists, meter readers, mail carriers, file clerks, bank tellers, gambling cage workers, and school bus monitors. None of these workers help to save lives daily, as do telecommunicators. This classification makes it more difficult for ECCs to justify higher compensation for telecommunicators. Moreover, potential candidates often view the role of telecommunicator as a low-wage job and not as a career that offers upward mobility, which hinders recruitment.
  • Mission creep — It is not unusual to find telecommunicators answering the phones for other government agencies, especially in the overnight hours, and information lines at all hours. This is particularly true of smaller jurisdictions. When this occurs, it increases the workload of already overburdened telecommunicators, making an already stressful job more stressful.

Fortunately, there are answers to these challenges, which I discovered recently when I moderated a podcast that featured Bonnie Maney, an MCP subject-matter expert who is focused on the 911 community, and John Ferraro, a certified emergency number professional (ENP) who is executive director of Northwest Central Dispatch System in Arlington Heights, Illinois. It was a wide-ranging discussion and I urge the reader to listen to it by clicking below.

Much of the discussion centered on alternative response strategies and tactics designed to alleviate 911 ECC and telecommunicator burdens, and they all are worth consideration. But there were two strategies that I found especially intriguing.

One involves working with local schools and junior colleges to establish emergency response curricula, especially as it relates to the 911 community. Doing this at the high school level will plant a seed in young people who might otherwise never consider the profession. Moreover, many young people today are eschewing the pursuit of four-year degrees because they no longer are the slam-dunk guarantee of landing a good job after graduation. So, an associate degree or certificate program at a junior college would provide a much quicker path to a meaningful profession in an industry that is sorely understaffed.

The other intriguing approach concerns consolidation. To many in the public sector, especially the 911 community, this is a four-letter word, driven largely by fears regarding a loss of jobs and operational control. But consolidation can work for the greater good, especially for small agencies, by enabling them to pool their resources to enhance their operations and even add capabilities that would be beyond their reach if they continued to stand alone.

This is a terrific podcast and I again urge the reader to listen — I guarantee that you will find it to be time well spent. In the meantime, MCP has more than 160 SMEs, many of them well versed in all matters related to the 911 community. So please reach out — they are eager to help you resolve your challenges, no matter what they are.

Glenn Bischoff is MCP’s content specialist. Prior to joining the firm, he was editor-in-chief of Urgent Communications for a decade. Email him at GlennBischoff@MissionCriticalPartners.com.

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