MCP Insights

Succession Planning Is a Must for Every Emergency Communications Center

Posted on November 11, 2020 by Darrin Reilly

The term “baby boomer” applies to anyone born between 1946 and 1964. There have been a lot of us—according to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 73 million in total. And by 2030, all of the baby boomers will be 65 or older—which means that many are leaving the workforce. In fact, the Census Bureau estimates that about 10,000 people cross the age threshold every day. It further is estimated that about 365 Americans retire every hour. Consequently, every emergency communications center (ECC) needs to start planning now for the so-called “silver tsunami,” which promises to exacerbate the staffing shortages that many centers already are experiencing.

When someone working for an ECC retires, the consequences can be dire, as one of our clients discovered not long ago. When the person responsible for the center’s geographic information system (GIS) left, a tremendous amount of institutional knowledge went out the door with the person. If the center had documentation regarding workflows, standard operating procedures and policies, the blow would have been a lot softer—but it didn’t. This affected everything from updating geospatial data to drawing road centerlines and emergency service zone polygons.

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When someone leaves, many organizations, across all business sectors, often try to fill the opening from within, and a lot of the time they do so by promoting someone who has performed well in their current position for a lengthy amount of time. The 911 community is not immune to this. And doing so is not necessarily a bad idea, because it is healthy for employees to see that the organization provides opportunities for career advancement.

However, all too often the promotion is made without any thought given to whether the recipient is well-qualified for the new responsibilities. This is a bad idea, and it occurs commonly in the 911 community, usually taking the form of a telecommunicator being elevated to supervisor. There is a lot more to the supervisor position than understanding the mechanics of 911 call-taking and dispatching. Public safety communications officials also need to be capable of the following:

  • Personnel evaluation and, when warranted, discipline
  • Ensuring that personnel performance aligns with industry standards and best practices
  • Post-incident stress debriefings and other personnel counseling
  • Creating budgets, getting them approved, and managing them
  • Developing strategic, continuity-of-operation and disaster-recovery plans and getting them approved
  • Communicating with government officials and the media

Compounding the mistake of not properly vetting supervisor candidates is that most agencies do not offer supervisor training.

It is vitally important then that ECCs—and all emergency response agencies for that matter—develop succession plans that identify the job requirements for each position, how candidates will be recruited, how they will be evaluated, and how they will be trained.

At MCP, we have used two methodologies since the firm’s inception 11 years ago that have proved their worth—Topgrading and Clifton Strengths. The former is a methodology developed by Dr. Brad Smart, who is considered by many to be the world’s foremost expert on hiring practices. It focuses on identifying “A” players, defined as someone who is in the top 10 percent of professionals in his or her chosen field. The latter is designed to identify a person’s strengths as well as weaknesses. It is vitally important that people are placed into positions for which they are best suited, i.e., ensuring that round pegs are being placed into round holes. To accomplish this, ECC managers need to know what people are capable of, and what they are not. (To read more about how MCP leverages Topgrading, click here; to read more about CliftonStrengths, click here.)

Many of MCP’s 150-plus subject-matter experts served in ECCs prior to joining the firm. They have a great deal of experience and expertise in operations and governance, and have helped many clients resolve their staffing challenges generally, and create succession plans specifically. They would love the opportunity to support you in these efforts—including providing you with insights regarding how you can leverage Topgrading and CliftonStrengths—so please reach out.

Darrin Reilly is MCP's president and chief operating officer (COO.) He can be emailed at darrinreilly@missioncriticalpartners.com.

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