March 19, 2015
By Mike Rigert
Much like the county’s namesake, Boone County Public Safety Joint Communications embodies the intrepid, trailblazing spirit of American pioneer, explorer, and frontiersman Daniel Boone. ‘Course that doesn’t mean the center’s dispatchers roam the call center toting Kentucky long rifles and donning coonskin caps.
The Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) was one of the first 9-1-1 communication centers in the state of Missouri to adopt the Fire Priority Dispatch System (FPDS) and is also the first and only center in the state to achieve fire Accredited Center of Excellence (ACE) status. More recently, the Boone County center also became the first dual-ACE in the state with medical and fire accreditation.
Joe Piper, director of Boone County Public Safety Joint Communications, said typically when an agency adopts a protocol system, the domino effect is that centers in the surrounding area also start using protocol systems.
“I’d like to think that we, as a center, have started at the forefront to be at the cutting edge, not bleeding edge,” he said. “I look at that as kind of pioneering.”
The Boone County center serves 10 separate agencies and dispatches for EMS, fire, and police services. It also provides calltaking for three additional agencies. The center has a coverage area of 691 square miles that includes a service population of about 168,000 residents. Located smack dab in the heart of the state, Boone County’s seat is college town Columbia, the home of the University of Missouri and Mizzou Tiger athletics. The center averages 77,108 9-1-1 calls for service annually. It employs 37 full-time dispatchers.
Brian Maydwell, the center’s operations manager, played a key role in helping it first gain fire ACE status in August 2013, and more recently, medical ACE status in July 2014.
Both Piper and Maydwell said the PSAP’s greatest challenge in gaining ACE was not performance-based but rather a lack of funding to provide the personnel needed to evaluate the quantity of calls required for accreditation. Call it serendipity, but the center was simultaneously in the process of transitioning to a new funding mechanism passed in April 2013. Instead of being funded through Columbia’s general city fund, a tax was passed that levied a 9-1-1 service tax across the entire county, increasing the center’s revenue, Piper said.
That paved the way for continuing construction on a new state-of-the-art combined facility for Boone County Public Safety Joint Communications and the Emergency Operations Center, and converting all the center’s dispatchers and staff from city to county employees. The new tax dollars also enabled the center to contract with National Q as its regular call reviewer for medical calls in September 2013, adding to the existing National Q contract for fire call review that began in October 2012.
“It was the deciding factor that led to our EFD accreditation application in the summer of 2013,” Maydwell said. “This process was so successful that we added EMD to the National Q call review and applied for medical accreditation in the summer of 2014.”
Piper added that the National Q service frees up the center’s Qs and leadership to give line dispatchers constructive feedback on calls and provide occasions for individual Q/dispatcher interaction rather than spending that valuable time and resources reviewing calls.
Maydwell said Carlynn Page, IAED™ associate director, was instrumental in helping them through the unfamiliar process. Page kept them updated on the accreditation’s requirements and also the specific documentation each step demanded. Piper also said the workshops and opportunities to network with other accredited communication centers at the Academy’s NAVIGATOR conferences provided him and his colleagues with valuable insights into the process.
“Just from a learning and motivational standpoint that helped,” Piper said.
The benefits of accreditation, Maydwell and Piper said, are manyfold. No. 1 was the recognition of the Boone County center’s outstanding staff.
“We have believed in our administration for quite some time that Boone County has some of the best dispatchers in the world,” Maydwell said. “It’s nice to have a third party agree with and validate our opinion.”
Another perhaps less-anticipated upside of becoming an ACE is that it’s a regional and national reputation booster that spills over into recruitment. Piper said ACE status is proof that a center is exceeding the standard.
“For the employee in the center, that brings a lot of pride,” he said. “As far as recruiting, folks coming in wanting to work for us, they’re saying they want to work for us because we’re an accredited agency. They’re saying that in the interview.”
Not that becoming an ACE in fire and medical was a cinch for the Boone County center. Piper and Maydwell said there was definitely a learning curve to the process, and even though Page assisted them and answered questions along the way, it didn’t make the accreditation process a breakaway slam dunk.
“At times, the obstacles to accreditation can seem overwhelming even though they don’t cause you to lose sight of the goal,” Maydwell said. “Perseverance, diligence, and the belief that your agency has within it the ability to achieve ACE are key requirements.”
Similarly, the Boone County center’s leadership holds no illusions that with most of the ACE heavy lifting completed, they can just coast from here.
“It’s important to remember that the journey to becoming an ACE doesn’t stop at the awarding of the plaque,” Maydwell said. “It continues in the thought that once you start providing your citizens with an excellent level of service, that it must be maintained every day afterward.”
Piper said the Boone County center’s road to ACE has been highly informative and rewarding in helping them reach their goals as an organization. The center has purchased the Police Priority Dispatch System (PPDS) and ProQA software, and is currently working with its law enforcement agency partners to implement the protocols. They hope to gain police ACE status by the end of 2015.
“It’s our vision to be a totally structured calltaking agency with protocols—and to do that well,” Piper said. “We’ve held tight to that vision, and we’re not totally there, but we’re getting there, and we’re excited about that.”