John Ferraro took exactly the steps his father advised when facing a challenge.
He ate a healthy breakfast. He took a walk. He took a deep breath.
With his strategy for test taking in place, he was ready to sit for the Emergency Number Professional (ENP) certification exam offered by the National Emergency Number Association (NENA).
The ENP exam is no easy feat. Not everyone passes the first time around.
“It’s not an automatic gimme,” said Ferraro, ENP, Executive Director, Northwest Central Dispatch System (NWCDS) (Arlington, Illinois, USA), and NENA Education Advisory Board member. “Everyone is intimidated in taking the exam.”
But once Ferraro jumped the hurdle, he found the benefits well worth the effort.
The credentials are more than a grouping of letters following a name. The certification proves knowledge and experience far beyond the nuts and bolts of emergency communications. It is a sign of competence, dedication, and above all, the willingness to push the envelope of your career. Passing the exam is an achievement and with it comes a huge sigh of relief when the letter announcing you’ve passed arrives in the mail.
Jennifer Kirkland, ENP, RPL, 9-1-1 Operations Administrator, Vail Public Safety Communications Center (Vail, Colorado, USA), and NENA Education Advisory Board member, remembers taking the exam like it was yesterday and not six years ago.
“I was terrified,” she said, to the extent that she had considered rescheduling despite the hours spent studying NENA’s exam prep guide, “The Body of Knowledge,” and going in with 12 years’ professional experience. She was convinced to go ahead; after all, the worst scenario was having to prepare a second time if she failed.
Kirkland passed the first time around and, if she hadn’t, it was never even a fleeting thought to forego the exam altogether.
“It’s so worth it,” she said. “Certification shows your commitment to the profession and your commitment to learning about the industry.”
Get ready before you go
Prior to taking the exam, NENA Institute Board, which oversees the ENP Certification Program, highly recommends taking advantage of NENA resources. The ENP Reference Manual is a must-read and periodically updated by NENA to reflect recent changes in the profession. Online and webinar-based study courses are available, as well as access to group study in person.
Boot camp is NENA’s short, intensive, and rigorous pre-exam preparation course. The camps are traditionally held at NENA’s annual conference and, in 2020 (for the first time ever) at NAVIGATOR.
The workshop starts up slowly with an overview of the ENP application and exam scheduling processes, cruises into pointers in exam-taking strategies, and then revs up to the cram session to get participants on the direct course to passing the exam. The review session covers the major categories and subcategories of communication center operations and management, and questions on exam day vary for each test taker according to random selection of 150 questions from a 900-item ENP bank.
Vicki Pickett, Operations Manager, Jefferson County Communications Center Authority (Jeffcom) (Lakewood, Colorado, USA), studied “like crazy” to prepare for the ENP exam and that was despite 18 years in the profession already under her headset.
“I was so nervous but, at the same time, excited,” she said. “It means so much to me.”
Set your 911 future
ENP certification is the benchmark for emergency number professionals and the learning doesn’t end after the exam. It’s only the start. The exam is a one-time requirement for certification, although ENPs must show continued learning and contribution to the profession through a process requiring that they earn 24 points to recertify every four years. The points signify professional growth.
NENA Institute Board (NIB) members meet annually to present an exam as dynamic as the people determined to achieve the credentials. Most would consider it a disservice otherwise.
“The exam must keep pace with the rapidly changing profession,” Pickett said.
After all, a static exam wouldn’t reinforce what NENA represents and expects from its ENPs.
Pickett started in emergency dispatch 26 years ago. She is president-elect of the NIB, which depends on expertise and dedication like hers to review and update the questions and synchronize NENA’s resource material. The NIB oversees the ENP exam, question revisions, and other items related to the ENP certification.
But the credentials are more than a personal badge of commitment, she said.
“It’s super important to advance our profession,” Pickett said. “When I started [in emergency dispatch] there weren’t many opportunities to do that. The ENP is a public demonstration that we know what we’re talking about.”
Change is the M.O.
No one can argue the changes since Feb. 16, 1968, when Alabama Speaker of the House Rankin Fite made the first emergency phone call using the 911 code. Fifty years later, the beginnings are every bit as different as typewriters in the computer age. Technology becomes more sophisticated by the day. Dispatcher-guided pre-arrival instructions, such as CPR and naloxone administration, are an expectation, not a novelty. Emergency dispatchers are the first on scene, no matter their location, working radios and phones to direct response and manage the scene throughout the incident.
Recent steps to advance emergency dispatch status is evident in the push to place them under the same protective service occupation category as police and firefighters. Minimum training standards and continuing education are requirements set by states or by centers in states lacking legislation.
The present and future lead back to achieving the ENP credential, and for anyone interested in a career in public service dispatch, it’s the only way to go.
“Anybody planning a career in 911 needs this,” Ferraro said. “The positives are unbelievable. It’s a validation. It shows you know your stuff. It advances your career.”
Ready when you are
The first exam in 1997 drew 115 NENA members, and during the past 22 years, over 2,000 people have tested (with a passing rate of 90%). Sitting for it requires three years of professional experience and accumulating points based on additional experience, education, and professional development and service (such as involvement on NENA boards and conference presentations).
Kirkland said the ENP credential is worth all the pre-exam jitters, plus some.
“Anyone who is eligible should take it,” she said. “The value is immeasurable. Why would anyone not set themselves up for success?”
The four-hour boot camp at NAVIGATOR is scheduled for Monday, April 27, [MOU1] at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort (Lake Buena Vista, Florida, USA). The exam will not be offered at NAVIGATOR. ENP exams are scheduled four times annually for a two-week period each time—winter, spring, summer, and fall—at computer-based testing facilities throughout the U.S. and Canada.
For more information, go to nena.org/page/enpcertification2017 for an overview of ENP certification, schedules, and application requirements.
About the Author:
Audrey Fraizer is managing editor of the Journal of Emergency Dispatch.