Reclassification Toolkit Overview

Becca Barrus

Becca Barrus

Best Practices

Every 10 years the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) in the United States provides an opportunity for employment sectors to change their classification status. In 2018, emergency dispatchers applied for reclassification from “Office and Administrative Support” to “Protective Service.” Not only does the current classification not accurately reflect the work that emergency dispatchers do, it makes it more difficult for them to get the kind of pay and benefits that should accompany such work. The BLS denied the change, leaving 911 professionals wondering how to approach the 2028 bid differently.

Thus the Public Safety Telecommunicator Reclassification Toolkit was born. It’s the product of years of conversations and information gathering. It’s a guide developed by and for 911 stakeholders across the country.

“The National 911 Program looked at the previous effort and asked, ‘Why didn’t this work?’” said Molly Falls with Mission Critical Partners during an online panel on the subject. “There were a lot of emotional pleas, a lot of stories. It wasn’t fact based. [The BLS] couldn’t find the data that matched with what was being shared.”

The toolkit is built around the data the BLS will be looking for this time around—job titles and descriptions, hiring and recruiting, education and training, and tools and technology. The four parts (or chapters) of the document are meant to stand alone so agencies can pick which one they want to focus on depending on their priorities. However, all four parts work together as well and utilizing them will benefit everyone involved.

Part 1: Developing a Job Description

“The first task the National 911 Program gave us was to look at job descriptions and find data,” said Nicki Tidey, an ENP with Mission Critical Partners and former director of a PSAP in rural Virginia (USA). “We looked at 1,000 job descriptions and found that 50% of them had ‘admin duties’ or ‘clerical duties’ listed. We also found job descriptions older than the people filling the positions.”

One of the chapter’s subsections explains how the role of a telecommunicator has expanded since 20 or 30 years ago. One of the biggest shifts is the expectations of emergency dispatchers—more is expected of them from their center, the public, and the first responders. Those expectations should be reflected in the job description.

Part one was designed to be an actionable document, with lots of bullet points and boxes to check off. At the end, there’s a model job description that you can copy and paste from.

“It’s there for you to steal,” Tidey said with a laugh.

If you don’t want to use the example word for word, you can compare it to your current job description instead. What do you already have? What important information is missing?

Part 2: Establishing and Expanding a Training Program

One of the most exiting—if daunting—aspects of emergency dispatch is that it’s constantly changing. As technology and protocols shift to better serve the public, first responders, and emergency dispatchers themselves, it’s important to make sure your training is up to date. It provides baseline expectations and gives them tools to live up to those expectations. Proper, frequent training is also protection for the center to avoid liability in circumstances that could have been avoided had proper action been taken.

Most PSAPs already have a training program, but for those that don’t, section two provides a starting point to create one. For those with an existing program, it provides a way to look at what you already have to see what’s working and what could use improvement.

One of the tips listed is to engage subject matter experts. You can connect with trainers from other PSAPs to find out what’s worked for them, ask the local fire or police chief what is vital from their perspective, and even ask new emergency dispatchers about their experience with the onboarding training. What worked? What didn’t? The panelists advise reviewing your training often and making changes as appropriate.

“It’s a lot of front-end work,” said Halcyon Frank with The Dispatch Lab. “Once you get it done, though, you really only need to do maintenance and upkeep.”

Part 3: Operational Integration of Technology and Tools

Much like the role of the emergency dispatcher has changed since its inception, the type and number of tools they use have changed as well. Section three has a graphic of all the software, technology, and systems that telecommunicators must expertly use during the course of their shift. It’s much more than just data entry or clerical work!

Aside from the tangible tools, a PSAP’s biggest tool is its Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). In order to have consistency across every call of every shift, you have to make sure that the policies are clearly laid out and then communicated to the emergency dispatchers. It must relay expectations clearly and establish accountability with state statutes. Not only does it protect the callers, it creates a fair and equitable way to evaluate telecommunicators as well.

As with the other parts of the toolkit, frequent reviewing and revising is advised. If that sounds like a gargantuan task, don’t worry! Ty Wooten, Director of Governmental Affairs at the International Academies of Emergency Dispatch® (IAED), suggests breaking it down into manageable pieces. Take the number of policies you have, then divide it by 12. That number is how many policies you have to check over each month to make sure all policies are reviewed annually (every 12 months).

Part 4: Developing a Legislative Strategy for Reclassification

The fourth and final section of the toolkit is focused on legislation. It isn’t just to nudge the national push for reclassification forward (although it certainly does that). Understanding and being able to communicate the “why” of reclassification will help you explain the importance of 911 to local decision-makers. Your state might reclassify emergency dispatchers before it’s done at the federal level, and it’s crucial to be able to express the role of dispatch using hard data and facts to help with that process. Another way to move reclassification forward is by building relationships with local legislators to establish rapport and trust before asking for their support.

“Moving the needle” is a phrase the panelists used often when describing the small, incremental efforts that will add up to a big result. Even if telecommunicators aren’t reclassified in 2028, the efforts made to get there will improve recruitment and retention, job satisfaction, and the overall standard of care provided by this necessary service. It moves the profession forward toward reclassification and elevates performance and standards on the way.

The entire toolkit can be found at https://www.911.gov/project_telecommunicatorjobreclassification.html. You can also watch recordings of the overview webinars here: https://www.crowdcast.io/user95aa145b.