A FIRST FOR EUROPE
November 18, 2015
By Audrey Fraizer
Alexander Militello is a straight shooter. He doesn’t sugarcoat.
The EPD Instructor and Quality Management Lead for the Oldenburg Communication Center in Lower Saxony, Germany, lays it right on the line when discussing the long road to implementing the Police Priority Dispatch System (PPDS) in a new building merging six police communication centers into one.
“When I look back, I would change a few things,” Militello said during his NAVIGATOR 2015 presentation (“Implementation in Oldenburg, Germany”). “I don’t know if the changes would have affected us in the long run, but it might help future implementations in Germany. I am hopeful there will be many because I am very confident in the quality of the protocol.”
PPDS was actually the caboose on a succession of a total systems overhaul over a four-year period, challenging Oldenburg’s communication staff. In 2011, six separate dispatch centers in Lower Saxony merged into a single, two-story building that was a wondrous prelude to the new future of communications.
“My impression when I entered the building: wow,” Militello said. “And I don’t lie. This was very impressive.”
This interior was airy and modern. There were windows looking out into a landscaped pavilion. Floor space was spacious and workstations were ergonomic.
The configuration of workstations would ultimately transform the mode of communications the living room style encouraged, which was common among the small space in the former centers shared by four to five staff members. Now there would be 126 people, with fully trained police officers at the controls of calltaking and dispatch—15 each per three shifts answering and dispatching calls—in a 3,200-square-meter (approximately 10,500 square feet) space attached by corridor to the Oldenburg police station.
The operations floor was designed with calltakers and dispatchers sitting at stations on opposite sides of an aisle in the same room. They would handle a volume of 220,000 calls per year from a population of 2.4 million in roughly 15,000 square kilometers (approximately 9,300 square miles) of northwest Germany. A spiral staircase at the back of operations led to training and special ops rooms upstairs.
Technology and training took a quantum leap.
Four high-definition screens took the place of spiral bound notebooks, maps, and phone directories. Headsets replaced telephones, and desktop microphones used for dispatching resources were assigned to the pile of obsolete equipment in favor of digital radios. An education and training section that Militello oversees went into effect on the same day the first group of employees were assigned to begin a five-day training course on the new CAD system.
“Everyone was overwhelmed in a good way,” Militello said. “We jumped 20 years in a day.”
Major leap forward
The gap or silent spot in the middle of the communication center, however, was a detail alerting Militello to a situation that did not exist in the closer quarters of the living room type dispatch centers. It was more than a visible space issue.
“That is the thing that allows me to stand in front of you today,” he said. “We could no longer communicate in the same way.”
Dispatchers and calltakers separated into two sections meant the former model of vertical dispatching was out. A call would not be the interrogation and dispatch responsibility of one person from start to finish.
Militello moved to horizontal dispatching. Two people would be performing the two functions in parallel. A calltaker on one side of the aisle and a dispatcher on the other side would communicate through a CAD system. There would be no gap in communications with the caller. While the dispatcher was sending response, the calltaker would be gathering information.
Horizontal dispatching—the separation of functions—opened the door to new opportunities. The calltaker could provide more assistance since dispatching resources was no longer part of the same function. Consolidation of centers and cross-training in the separate functions also brought another factor to light.
“Interrogation was subjective in nature,” Militello said. “New standards were urgently needed. We wanted a process that provided consistency.”
Militello’s search led him to Salt Lake City. He liked the system described, and despite early misgivings from his colleagues regarding the sensibility of adhering to scripted protocol developed in America, he was given the go ahead and appointed project manager by Chief Heiko von Deetzen for PPDS version 4.2 implementation. Oldenburg would be the first German-speaking city to use the Police Protocol.
Things started happening fast. A class of 16 attended the first EPD certification class in June 2014. At the end of the three-day certification course, hesitation was evolving into “Why did we wait so long?”
“They were asking how we managed so many years without scripted protocol,” Militello said. “They no longer wanted calltaking without structure.”
Tweaking the system
Priority Dispatch System (PDS) German Language and Localization Specialist Victoria Cheema completed the PPDS translation into German, and she—along with Irena Weight, Director of Protocol, Translation, Curriculum and Instructional Design, and Chris Knight, Chief of Program Management & Implementations—traveled to Oldenburg to attend a meeting of the International Academies of Emergency Dispatch (IAED) German Cultural Committee, spending an intense three days reviewing the translated dispatch system one protocol at a time.
They returned to IAED headquarters in Salt Lake City, their work cut out for them during the six months remaining until the March 2, 2015, go live date. On the plus side, the accuracy demanded of protocol complemented the German penchant for precision. The work included both revising the translation to fit the German police terminology as well as modifying some of the ProQA logic design to reflect the processes of German law enforcement.
“We had to adjust the logic system to their reality because some of their laws, training, and calltaking practices differ from North America,” Weight said.
What is said in English cannot always be expressed easily in German, said Cheema, who is also translating the Medical Priority Dispatch System (MPDS) Version 13.0 into German. Cheema said the main challenge was translating the clear and concise English sentences into “short” German sentences, as German usually requires longer sentences (longer words, more complex structures, etc.).
“Other than that, the challenges were obviously content related,” Cheema said. “We needed a translation that fits the German culture, while keeping the meaning, structure, and intent of the English text.”
Militello said the translation had to be on a broad scale.
At the same time, there were adjustments to software. The existing catalog of response key words was adjusted to respect German police procedures without losing DETERMINANT DESCRIPTOR patterns established in ProQA. An interface in the CAD system purchased during the Oldenburg construction phase did not work seamlessly with ProQA. PDC European Implementation Specialist Mario Foletti was called in. The interface was modified.
They made the deadline.
“This is a compliment to Militello and the Oldenburg team,” said Knight, who taught the initial EPD certification course through a German translator. “They accomplished an intense amount of work in a limited period of time.”
The “few things” Militello would modify have more to do with preparatory stages for the user rather than the protocol and its application.
“That’s where we would make significant changes,” said Militello, a police officer since 1995 and in emergency communications for the past 10 of those years. “I would have prepared employees earlier and provided more information in advance about the restructuring of our calltaking process.”
Work remains. The German version of PPDS version 5.0 is in the translation stage, and the center anticipates becoming an ACE.
Militello said it hasn’t been easy leaving their comfort zone.
“We are pioneers, and not everyone volunteered for the adventure,” he said. “There is still a lot ahead of us, and we continue to welcome the challenge.”