By Scott Freitag
Minimum training standards for emergency telecommunicators is pulling divergent organizations together into the same sandbox.
And, guess what?
They’re playing nicely. Although the occasional flick of sand is unavoidable, those involved are intent on building the same castle and, at this point, working together to form a consensus foundation. Representatives from each organization—such as IAED, NENA, APCO, and the Denise Amber Lee Foundation—participate in working groups set up to establish and circulate national standards to the individual states. For example, IAED Associate Director Carlynn Page chairs the Model Legislation Task Force.
Page calls the solidarity unprecedented. Historically, these organizations maintain separate profiles; however, minimum training standards, she said, are something they can all agree on, at least in principle. They’re starting at the ground level, using research and surveys that will result in standards bringing all PSAPs to an acceptable level of care.
While most states have some form of regulation, uniformity on any scale doesn’t exist, and state oversight is often inconsistent. On opposite ends of the spectrum are agencies prescribing to certification and accreditation—the IAED philosophy—and agencies flying by the seat of their pants, operating without the benefit of policies and procedures or protocols.
No one should anticipate federally mandated training requirements. The push is state-by-state legislation requiring baseline fundamental training. The object is to create standards that are sustainable and achievable, particularly considering the smaller PSAPs operating with fewer than 30 employees, which, by the way, are in the majority.
NENA Education Director Ty Wooten said this is a “walk-before-you-can-run” strategy. Get agencies started in the right direction and soon enough you’ll see the proverbial scratching of the head—“What took us so long?”
For Denise Amber Lee, training—even minimum standards—could have made a difference.
Lee was 21 years old when she was abducted from her home in Florida and murdered on Jan. 17, 2008. The mother of two small boys and others witnessing her struggle from the back of her assailant’s car called for help through the 911 system, but failures in the communication system prevented police and other emergency services from finding her alive. Investigations identified failures in the communication center that were later identified as an epidemic nationally.
I had the privilege of meeting Mark Lee—Denise’s father-in-law—and Nathan Lee—Denise’s husband—at NAVIGATOR in 2009, one year after the tragedy forever changed the direction of their lives. They were new on the 911 stage, representing the foundation established shortly after her death.
While Nathan doesn’t hesitate to credit the good work that many emergency dispatchers give, the two PSAPs contacted the day his wife was abducted and murdered provided woefully inadequate responses.
And that’s why he set out to do something.
Because of the foundation’s efforts, the Florida Legislature passed the Denise Amber Lee Act in April 2008; the act provides for voluntary training, and the foundation continues to lobby state legislatures to pass mandatory training and certification for all 911 dispatchers.
It’s unfortunate that it took such an overwhelming heartbreak to bring attention to the lack of national standards, much the same as events precipitating forward momentum of the Medical Priority Dispatch System (MPDS). But that’s how things work, as long as there are individuals willing to run with determination and bring others into the fold.
“The public assumes that 911 professionals have the same level of training, but that’s not reality,” said Nathan, during a panel discussion at NAVIGATOR 2015. “We need uniform national standards. We need to take this to the top floor.”
You can bet that he will never stop fighting in the name of Denise.