Mike Rigert

Mike Rigert

Best Practices

By Mike Rigert

The words of Dave Barry, American writer and humorist, rang true to Brian Dale, so he began his NAVIGATOR session about committees with those words.

“If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be ‘meetings,’” Dale quoted Barry as saying.

Everyone grumbles about having to attend meetings, particularly in organizations where the only thing better than a meeting is more meetings.

However, in some organizations, particularly in public safety and emergency communications fields, meetings—especially oversight committee meetings that have a place when discussions lead to potential improvements between life and death in 9-1-1—are necessary.

Dale, Salt Lake City Fire Department (SLCFD) deputy chief, Administrative Services Bureau, and the Academy’s Accreditation Board chair, recently presented a leadership session May 2 at NAVIGATOR 2014 in Orlando, Fla., entitled, “Group Think—The Down and Dirty of Oversight Committees.”

Oversight committees are vital to International Academies of Emergency Dispatch (IAED) member agencies’ ability to use the protocols correctly based on the quality improvement process and case review from each organization’s Q or Qs. Also, newer members or recently accredited/re-accredited agencies may still be getting up to speed in organizing committees primary to the IAED goal, Dale said.

Two Academy-identified committees—the Dispatch Review Committee (DRC) and Dispatch Steering Committee (DSC)—and one group—the Quality Improvement Unit (QIU)—work synergistically to help line calltakers use the protocols appropriately and “to give everyone with the agency the right voice in the process, at the right level, at the right time,” he said.

“It’s kind of hard to make committee work really exciting and jazzy, but I started looking at it,” Dale said, regarding preparation for his presentation.

His workshop identified optimal committee participation and makeup, how to pick the right people to sit on committees, potential potholes in the committee process, and strategies to avoid them.

To define terms, the QIU is comprised of an agency’s Q or Qs that perform case review and discusses current trends, and answers to the DRC. The DRC, comprised primarily of line calltakers and middle-level managers, discusses and reviews general compliance, assists in forming Continuing Dispatch Education (CDE), produces and revises policy review, identifies and produces Proposals for Change (PFCs), and addresses QIU process concerns. The DSC is comprised of upper management and its sole purpose is to approve policy drafted with a yes, no, or approve with modification.

But at the heart of the process is the DRC, and its composition can have a substantial impact on its success, Dale said. Assign someone to chair the committee and invite key individuals (none higher than captain-level) to sit on it.

“If you put the wrong type of person on the DRC, you can actually shut it down,” he said, about placing a fire chief, police chief, or medical director on the DRC. “You just threw a hand grenade into the room. People are not going to be who they need to be to get things done with a bunch of brass sitting around the table. Those individuals are used to getting their way. So when someone disagrees with them, their first response is to bow their neck and show you their bars (on their collar).”

The chair should also ensure that there is a diversified group on the DRC and that each calltaker shift at the center has calltaker representation so that everyone with the agency feels like he or she has a voice.

The biggest mistake Dale ever made was in choosing the wrong mix of members for his first DRC.

“The natural tendency is to find people within the organization who think like you think, who are onboard; I found the Mini Me’s,” he said. “That’s failure. … Meaningful conflict is a healthy thing. It takes time to get the right mix.”

Committee members should receive a meeting agenda at least a week in advance, and meetings should begin on time and be kept to less than one hour. Official minutes should be taken and published to achieve a high degree of agency transparency. Specific time frames should be set for project completions and updates.

“The DRC is designed to drive, assist, and manage, to some extent, the QIU,” Dale said. That way the agency’s Q or Qs know that the DRC is assisting them in managing the quantity and type of cases they’re reviewing, “and not just looking for bad stuff,” he said.

Compliance, he said, is a process not a starting point.

“Don’t try to go from 50 percent compliance to 95 percent in two months,” Dale said. “It’s not going to happen. Identify what you can do, pick those things out, get them done, and move on.”

How does it all fit together? The Qs that are part of the QIU also report to and sit on the DRC. The DRC chair will typically sit on the DSC as a nonvoting member to provide background information about proposed policies.

But the biggest key to running a successful DRC, which Dale learned through the school of hard knocks from Dr. Jeff Clawson, the founder of the protocols, was that the process has to be institutionalized. In other words, it takes delegating DRC responsibilities to a team of comm. center representatives with varying viewpoints and perspectives to create a lasting culture of continual improvement in the center. One person can’t carry it all on his or her back.

“The idea of all of this is that we all have accountability, we all know our place in that system, and we also know that there’s a way to get things improved, fixed, or altered,” Dale said. “Anyone who knows my feelings on the DRC, this is the most important group on the planet.”