Webinar presenter Peter Bellmio answered a number of your questions after his presentation, Staffing 911 Centers in the Era of NG911. Here are just a few of his responses.
Audience Question: Most 911 centers are funded through special tax assessments. With the 911 legislation coming up in congress, do you see issues with PSAPs having the necessary resources for additional staff?
Peter Bellmio: This is an issue because PSAPs have had to survive on budgets from different funding streams to pay for staffing. I did completed a study in major city in Virginia where the City for years diverted the funds provided to staff the 911 center to other City expenses. Evaluation of how funds from different sources is not monitored well enough. The other problem is that in many states the dollars provided to PSAPs has no relationship to what it really cost the 911 center. A state government decides how much they can allocate and then divide the money up based on population or some other formula. We really have not yet developed a funding mechanism for these 911 centers that takes workload into account.
Audience Question: Given the additional technology involved in NG911. Should centers consider the need for ongoing 7×24 support from IT?
Peter Bellmio: That’s usually a recommendation in studies of these agencies. They usually need to have somebody who really is a technology coordinator. That job tends to leave that job to the director of the PSAP or one staff member who as in interest in it.. To make the most of technology we buy, you are going to need somebody who has and IT background to manage it and help the people use it. The biggest issue is being the bridge between call takers and the dispatchers and whoever’s provided with the technology. A typical PSAP needs an organizational structure where we have a director of operations, somebody doing personnel and training and staff development, and somebody handling technology. It always amazes me that 911 centers have very limited management and supervision staff. Some can have 50 people and one director and 5 supervisors. That’s their management structure. That same 50 personnel would have much more in the way of managers and supervisors.
Audience Question: If you are using a tool like QueueView for call taking staff forecast, how and where would do you account for the work like CAD entry and CPIC checks?
Peter Bellmio: Counting work on CAD entries and the CPIC checks would be depends on who’s doing them. In some cases, everybody in the PSAP is doing them which makes it difficult. In most PSAP’s those system checks is typically done by dispatchers. Some places will run in an information channel, that’s separate from dispatching. We get that data and count those as tasks per minute for each work position to identify a reasonable number of per minute.
Audience Question: You talked about supervisors in communication centers not getting enough training to be managers, can you talk a little bit more about this? What kind of specific training should these frontline managers be receiving?
Peter Bellmio: I learned this working with a PSAP manager that came from Sprint many years ago in Florida. The private sector does so much more with call center managers and supervisors. Here are some examples. The supervisors should be able to observe behavior, plug in and listen to calls. Do that based on an analysis of people’s performance that you can get off the phone system. They also should be talking directly to the people once a month and say how are you doing. They should have the skills to be able to communicate. They should be able to talk constructively to staff about their performance. When you have good metrics on call answering performance. For example, you have to say that somebody, “You had the ready light off 75% of the time. What was the deal last month?” Then you find out that they had an ancillary project that they are working on you didn’t know they had so that’s okay. It really is training on how to coach, how to communicate with employees, and also know what to do help this employees cope with the stresses of the job. I’ve been in this business since the late ’70s. I still marvel at people who can all work together in one room sometimes for their entire career, pick up the phone and never know what’s on the other end. I’ve had friends who just can’t do it anymore. It is a tough job. It is a lot of pressure. Supervisors, you need to be watching the folks, watching the metrics to see how you’re doing and work it with somebody before they have serious problems. Today people have problems at home too. It’s really the personnel management part of it and also knowing how to use the data. What do the data mean if we get telephone data for an individual on their performance? Those are the major things that they’ve been training on.
Audience Question: How does the creation of a 311 center affect staffing for 911 centers?
Peter Bellmio: It depends on what the mission is of your 311 center. I’ve had some that were just for taking non-emergency reports for police and answering city questions. I know in Charlotte, they implemented 311 and they’re going subsume their Non-emergency Police Service unit (NEPS0 I think is a terrific idea. Charlotte, unless they’ve changed it, 911 only rings in the communications center. They have access to CAD and they can shift the calls up to the communications center. They folded the next functions into the 311 in Charlotte but eventually brought NEPS back to the police because there’s more work there in 7 digit calls than 311 people could usually do. It’s been my experience and again it depends on the way they have implemented it. 311 widens the pipe for people calling for city services were years ago if they saw trash on the corner, they don’t really know how to call, the public works. They now use the 311If you can get the 311 to do some referral, referral work, that’s great. It can help out the PSAP because really the PSAP may be getting the city service calls and they then go to 311.. You just have to track it. I also have heard complaints about the lack of training and poor coordination between the PSAP and 311. That results in calls bouncing back to 911 and back to the PSAP, because they aren’t clear about who’s doing what. 311 could help if you have some of those non-emergency calls if it could go 311.
Audience Question: Where were the goals for call taking drawn from? I think she is talking about the standards that you talked about. Can you talk a little bit more about those?
Peter Bellmio: APCO does not have standards. They say that’s local prerogatives. They make suggestions but they don’t have them. The National Emergency Numbers Association has standards for call taking performance. You can find it if you Google NENA and 911 standards. It’s a law of diminishing returns. How many call takers does it take to answer calls fast enough to satisfy the public. Over the years, it is really been basically 90% within three rings. Three rings is about 8 seconds. I think you have to know what it is for your phone system. I think a nonemergency, these days we all wait on line on helplines. I think we have to push the envelope on that. We don’t really need to answer 7 digit calls within 30 seconds. As long as you have a good automated system for calls and you have a visible queue that you can tell somebody you are the third caller, stay on the line, we’ll get to you. Here’s an estimated wait time.
Click Here to Watch a Recording of Staffing 911 Centers in the Era of NG911.