Making Hay While The Sun Shines!

Sheri Stigler

The fall season often reminds me of the old saying which calls us to “make hay while the sun shines.” In dispatch, as the cooler weather arrives and the peak of the busy summer season makes its exit, there is time to breathe, to regroup, to concentrate on organized efforts. Kids are back to school and routines are welcomed back by many. So for us, making hay while the sun shines means that we use this precious “slower-paced” time to concentrate on building and growing our most precious resource: our people.

I can’t think of a better way to do that than to invest in knowledge and team building initiatives. If your center is like mine—and probably a majority of centers around the nation—you may not have the funding or staffing that would allow for outside training opportunities. There are, however, ways to provide low cost or no-cost educational programs for your staff … ways to make hay while the sun shines.

Here are some tips for effective “haymaking” in your own organization:

Have staff help dust off policies and procedures. Sometimes I come across a policy and wonder how on earth it managed to survive throughout the years without someone (anyone!) noticing how irrelevant it really is now. There are no better experts to review the policies than those who are sitting in the seats and who are expected to follow said policies. This is great use of time, and it’s something that can be done during slower periods. This creates goodwill and buy-in from staff, as they are part of the creation and maintenance of the departmental decision-making process.

Online learning has really taken on a life of its own! The advancement series and Journal quizzes on the College of Emergency Dispatch site allow personnel to access these incredible resources that also helps them log their Continuing Education requirements. Departments can create their own “mini-courses,” monthly trainings, newsletters or other “just-for-fun” presentations that all help to build the knowledge base of the organization. Our department will be using the online method to have all of our staff participate in the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s Readiness Project, http://www.missingkids.com/MKRP, which trains PSAP personnel via their online university in order to ensure compliance with the best practices for dealing with missing and exploited children cases. The ability for staff to log in and out and complete training as they are able to is a valuable and cost-effective alternative to physically sending folks outside of the center for training. You may also want to consider allowing people to bring their personal laptops or tablets for these online training activities. This has been successful at our center, and it promotes a welcomed on-demand, “as-I-can” learning opportunity for staff.

Scenario Practice continues to be a valuable tool. We will often pair up two dispatchers who are working in the same pod and have them work through a specific protocol. This works not only for newer employees/trainees but also for tenured call takers who may not have worked through a more complicated protocol in a while. The fact they can earn CEUs for the time spent is also a win-win.

Team and Relationship Building. Any season is any reason to put forth a dedicated effort toward team-building. Our staff (below) always has fun with the Halloween holiday activities—dressing in costume and participating in the annual chili dump. We are still wondering how the hot dog was able to don his headset.

So now, my friends, is the perfect time to be good farmers of the incredible crop we produce as 911 professionals. Let’s be sure to put in the effort to “make the hay” while we have sun and opportunity during our slower months. The seasoned crop of well-trained, professional dispatchers will indeed be our bountiful harvest!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Sherri Stigler is the Training and Operations Manager for Waukesha County Communications, Wisconsin, USA, a combined dispatch center in southeastern Wisconsin, just west of Milwaukee, a land where the beer runs freely and locals proudly stack cheese on just about everything and call it great.