MCP Insights

Telecommunicators Week Is Great, But It’s Only a Start

Posted on April 18, 2024 by Jenna Streeter

Telecommunicators Week Is Great, But It’s Only a Start

As a former 911 telecommunicator, this week, National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week, always has been special to me. Though I recently transitioned from a role inside an emergency communications center (ECC), 911 services always will hold a big place in my heart. Since 911 service in the United States first was instituted in 1968, telecommunicators generally have labored behind the curtain and this week provides them with well-deserved visibility, which also is much needed.

What happens in ECCs has been taken for granted for a very long time. That has begun to change, albeit slowly. There has been growing acceptance over the last few years that telecommunicators are, indeed, the first of the first responders. More recently, successful efforts have ensued in some states to reclassify them as such, and there is great hope that this will be achieved at the federal level as well.

A colleague has a favorite metaphor to describe the role of telecommunicators that I’ll share here. He likens emergency response to a bicycle wheel. The spokes are critical to the bicycle wheel’s performance, but it wouldn’t be able to function at all without the hub to which the spokes are connected. In this metaphor, law enforcement, fire/rescue, emergency medical services, et al, are the spokes and the ECC — with its telecommunicators — is the hub.

It's a very apt metaphor. Emergency response starts with telecommunicators who field 911 calls, size up the situation, determine the appropriate response, dispatch that response, and share situational awareness that will help emergency responders perform their jobs optimally and keep them safer. All of this is done under tremendous pressure — in an emergency, lives usually are on the line and every second matters.

It's a very tough job that only a small percentage of the population can do successfully.

Nevertheless, the public and elected officials still don’t appreciate telecommunicators the way they should, and visibility is the reason. The vast majority of citizens never experience a burglary, house fire, or serious automobile accident, yet they have great affinity for police officers, firefighters, and paramedics because they are so visible — we see their vehicles everywhere we go, and they are depicted in numerous television shows. In contrast, telecommunicators labor anonymously, with very few exceptions.

This needs to change. Telecommunicators Week is wonderful but often feels like “one and done.” Telecommunicators need to be visible the other 51 weeks of the year. Recognition of their vital role will improve morale, to be sure. But enhanced visibility has a far more important purpose. It will convince lawmakers and public officials to think differently about them, which should lead to better compensation, which in turn should improve retention. It will establish in the minds of the public that this isn’t just a job, but a profession, which should improve recruitment, both in terms of candidate quantity and quality. At a time when the 911 community is suffering from an acute staffing shortage, improvements in recruitment and retention are sorely needed.

I get telecommunicators and I want to be their voice.

In my new role at MCP, I pledge to do my part to increase telecommunicator visibility and urge the 911 community to join me. I’m also eager to help improve the plight of telecommunicators and 911 operations generally, through staffing assessments, consolidation studies, workforce optimization, development of better policies and procedures, and technology implementation, e.g., advancing Next Generation 911 and figuring out how artificial intelligence can and should be leveraged. I would love to talk with you about all of this — please reach out.

Jenna Streeter 400x400Jenna Streeter is an MCP communications specialist. Prior to joining the firm, she served as emergency communications director for Madison County (Alabama) Fire, where she managed a staff of 15 telecommunicators.

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