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Welcome to my site and thank you for reading. After many times thinking, if only I had a blog, well-- here we are. This blog will feature writings on a variety of topics from roadside food, to leadership in the fire service; politics; culture- gay, straight, and indifferent, my experiences in Ohio, New York and beyond; and much much more. It's my hope that you will find it interesting and that it stirs at least some thought and discussion. I am certain you wont always agree, but that is what its all about right? Oh and one more thing:

The views expressed on this site are entirely my own. They do not reflect in anyway the views or positions of my employer (s) and should not taken as official policy of ANY organization with which I am associated. Reading or sharing any post from this site shall be taken as an indication that you have read this disclaimer and understand it.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

The Empowered Dispatcher

One of the most common misperceptions or assumptions about the proper role of Dispatchers is that they should simply sit back, follow protocols, and leave the difficult decisions and actions to those in the field. Normally an incident commander or, perhaps, a book of policies that must be followed to the "T" no matter what.  In the agencies that are the most effective, however, Dispatchers are empowered, trained and encouraged to obtain information, make decisions, and undertake actions that dramatically improve their ability to meet the needs of the public and of responders. 

This approach may lead to infrequent errors in judgement, a response that is a little heavy or a little light, increased complexity, or additional training.  However,much like a football team allowing the QB to call an audible, this type of approach leads to much better odds that executing the "big-play" will go successfully.  

Empowering your personnel does require investing in training, testing for skills and abilities at the time of hire, and having effective supervision in place as well as an agency wide commitment to learning from successes and failures.  Fortunately, these are all critical factors to the success of any 9-1-1 agency. 

In this age of increased liability , increased demands for sometimes limited resources, and the evolution of public expectations, we owe it to the public to provide them the best possible emergency services, starting from the moment the second "1" is dialed and continuing until the incident is closed. 

Empowered Dispatchers are a critical component of providing effective safety services. What follows are just 15 of the many Characteristics of Empowered Dispatchers and the agencies that utilize them.  If you have more, please do not hesitate to email me at I would welcome your insights, questions, and comments 

1) Dispatchers able to effectively go "off the card":  This means giving dispatchers the ability to assign a unit that may not normally respond, but that is nearby or that has an ability that the dispatcher may believe will be required.  This requires the dispatcher to have a significant level of training and knowledge. 

2) Dispatchers are able to adjust responses based on additional information: Are your dispatchers able to assign additional ambulances when they know an accident has numerous patients? Or an additional engine and ladder company if there are people trapped in a fire? Perhaps a dispatcher is encouraged to give a heads-up to the SWAT team commander when there may be the need for a SWAT response?  In each of these examples, the dispatcher can help improve results by going a little beyond the normal.

3) Dispatchers are authorized to Redirect Units to higher priority calls or when units are "crossing" each other. This is a "no-brainer", but some places discourage it, or don't train their personnel to recognize when the situation is occurring.  Fortunately, technology can help, but the root necessity is for personnel to realize it is happening and be authorized to do something about it.

4) Dispatchers are able to adjust responses based on volume of activity:  If your agency is experiencing a period of increased volume, personnel should be permitted to decrease responses (or possibly hold them altogether).  For example, a normal response to a fire alarm is two engines and one ladder and a Battalion. During a thunderstorm, the response should perhaps be just the nearest available fire suppression apparatus.  (The key here is:  if you receive additional information the incident is serious, you must upgrade the response to its normal compliment)

5) Dispatchers are trained on and aware of all the toys in the toy box- what they do, where to find them: Are your personnel aware of what each unit does, what role it plays, and when it might be used?  There should never be a unit in CAD or on a response card that a Dispatcher can't identify, describe and explain.  This include units that are cross-staffed, second-pieces, or staffed only by call-in personnel. 

6) All Dispatch personnel should understand the basics of operations on the scene:  Dispatchers should be provided basic understanding of the operations on a fire, ems, or police scene.  Including the incident command structure, terminology, and procedure.  When an officer responds to a domestic violence call, a fire, or a medical call, the dispatcher should be able to understand the "flow" and be able to visualize what is going on.  A good example of this in action is when a dispatcher is repeatedly calling a unit on the fireground that is inside a fire building, or one that has just been dispatched but has not yet had time to board the apparatus and pullout of quarters.

7) All personnel are aware of the factors that impact resources and plan for them ahead of time.  (Weather, events, etc)  Despite rumors and assumptions, many busy days are not a surprise. In fact, weather and special events are the two biggest factors that lead to crazy days in Public Safety.  Granted, there are some that are random.  But planning for these big days and understand what periods of the day are normally the busiest, help dispatchers make better decisions and engage in better resource management

8) The Dispatch Center is provided ongoing updates from the ICs at Critical Incidents. Having the incident commanders at large scale and/or long duration incidents is critical.  The Dispatchers (and other personnel) are able to better anticipate future needs, ensure history histories are accurate,  have improved situational awareness and provide accurate information to relevant parties as required. 

9) Dispatch Personnel AND field personnel engage in AARS and Critiques to learn how they were successful and how to improve next time. Far too many agencies fail to capture the critical insights gained from large incidents.  Even worse, some agencies do not invite Dispatch Personnel to participate in After Action Reviews or Incident Critiques.  If agencies want to ensure future incidents are as successful as possible and that Dispatch Personnel are seen as part of the team, this is an essential area to improve. 

10) Dispatch Personnel should be aware of the clues from calls and unit communications that paint a more complete picture of what is happening with the incident. Seasoned Dispatch Personnel are well aware of the subtle clues that indicate the potential seriousness of call. From breaking glass, to screaming we need to ensure our new personnel are trained to listen for these clues and develop their intuitive skills.   

11) Dispatchers are able to handle effectively "out of the box" incidents (apparatus accident enroute; maydays etc). A perfect example of this concept are accidents involving responding apparatus.  Dispatchers must be trained to not only maintain their composure but also to ensure that: 1) the responding apparatus are replaced on the original assignment 2) an appropriate response is sent to the new accident involving the responders 3) radio discipline is maintained.  This situation is one of most complex that any public safety agency will face and the Dispatcher is key to its success. 

12) Dispatchers understand the role played in ensuring best possible outcomes for the public and the safety of field responders. Agencies must do a better job ensuring that Dispatchers see themselves as a critical part of the entire emergency response spectrum.  This can be accomplished in many ways, from employee recognition efforts, to encouraging responders to interact with Dispatch Personnel both formally and informally. 

13) Dispatch Personnel (and their entire command structure) must see themselves as professionals responsible for learning as much as possible, not an automaton subject to the whim and will of the CAD system or the procedure manual. The creation of a professional environment requires an agency wide change in viewpoint and approach.  The culture of professionalism is reflected the recruitment, hiring, evaluation, promotion, recognition, and discipline processes (amongst many others..).  This is also reflected in how personnel who seek outside training and education are treated.  Are those that make an effort to grow and learn valued or dismissed? Are members encouraged to participate in professional associations?  Each of these factors contribute to both the empowerment of personnel and the overall effectiveness of the organization. 

14) Units that the agency dispatches are not permitted to "jump" runs whenever they like-- the Dispatcher is responsible for determining if they are required, appropriate, and adjusts the response to ensure proper resource management. In order to prevent chaos, Dispatchers must be considered the final authority, with deviations only permitted in life-threatening situations.

15)  The Dispatcher is viewed as the Incident Commander until the arrival of the first apparatus or unit.  This simple (but profound) mindset illustrates the importance of the Dispatcher's role and the critical nature of their duties inside the communications center and how those duties impact the response and the outcomes for responders and the public.

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