The Perks of Being a Wallflower

perksNo, not the book, or even the recent movie adaptation………….though on a side note, you should really read the book and watch the movie, they are well worth your time, but have you considered how much a wallflower observes and absorbs in relation to those who are always engaged and active?

Ok, so I lied, lets talk about the award-winning book and critically acclaimed movie for a moment.

Charlie (though that is not his real name) is the voice of the story, the only viewpoint you see throughout. He is writing letters anonymously (hence not his real name) to an unknown person, giving updates and critiques of life as he knows it. Charlie has a group of friends that help him along his way, most notably Patrick (previously known as nobody) and Sam, the girl that he is head over heels in love with. Charlie is a quiet type, watching and wondering while the world is passing him by. He takes in every morsel and tries to analyze the meaning of it all. In the end of course he realizes that life is for living, but was his “wallflower” status really all that bad?

Flip the coin and jump into training. What do you do every day when you are training someone?

I know that I usually spend time trying to transfer information and skills through discussion and practice, but there is always a time when I step back and do nothing but observe. I observe how the trainee is using the resources available, how they are applying the skills that we have just covered, and how they are interacting with co-workers. I analyze what needs improvement and reinforcement and what expectations have been met. I compile all of that information; much like Charlie did in his letters; into a Daily Report and map out a direction for the next day, week, or month.

I am a Wallflower

I am also an opinionated, assertive, and confident worry wart, but it all starts and ends with the Wallflower part of me.

If I don’t watch, I don’t learn. If I don’t learn, I can’t help anyone else learn. If I can’t help anyone else learn, what am I doing here?

Disclaimer: The content of this blog and any opinions, observations, or ideas are mine and not associated in any way with my employer, The Reedy Creek Improvement District.

Michael Stevens answers “How much does a video weigh?”

imageseeMichael Stevens is framing interesting questions in order to draw attention to his educational videos, and it works. How can we use this in Public Safety to spark creativity and critical thinking skills?

Watch below and let me know what you think.

Disclaimer: The content of this blog and any opinions, observations, or ideas are mine and not associated in any way with my employer, The Reedy Creek Improvement District.

Social Media Context During Emergencies?

social-media-billboardOn April 29th, 2003, at 3:59 AM Central Time, I can tell you exactly where I was and what I was doing. Having started a new job in January, I was working third shift in a 9-1-1 Communications Center. I had stepped to the kitchen to find a snack, leaving my co-worker / trainer in the Communications Center alone. Having just sat down at the table, I was perplexed by the odd movement that I noticed in the ceiling tiles; they seemed to lift up slightly then settle back in place. Thinking that something unusual was happening, I walked back through the secure door to the Communications Center just in time. The 9-1-1 lines lit up with activity, so I quickly took my place and started processing calls.

All of the calls seemed to be the same; “someone is trying to break into my house”, “there is someone banging on my door” and so on. Per policy, we transferred the calls to the appropriate law enforcement agency for investigation, all the while trying to communicate with each other about what might have happened and one of us breaking off to make informational calls to see what was going. It was at least ten minutes before we were able to confirm that 54 miles away, a 4.6 magnitude earthquake had just occurred. Aftershocks of up to 2.0 magnitude were also measured.

Earthquake, in the south?

With good information in hand, our job became more akin to a public information officer, still processing the calls that sounded like break in’s but altering our initial questioning to determine if they could be feeling the effects of the earthquake. Within 1 1/2 hours, 2 people processed over 90 calls, all related to the earthquake. Things returned to normal by day break and we had handled every call with professionalism and concern, but had we had we known what was occurring earlier, the first 30 calls would have been handled more efficiently without tying up local law enforcement officers chasing “shadow burglars.”

Context is what we were missing, and as it turns out, it would have helped a lot.

The same can be said about the direction that Social Media has been taking in relation to active emergencies in the last few months. Context is key to forming a response and recovery plan, context is important in all aspects of emergency management, and while Public Safety Agencies are turning to Social Media to make public notifications, they are also scanning those same sites to help formulate their response. Whether they are gathering information relate to a crime or analyzing photographs posted to assess damage from a storm, social media is taking a front line role in response.

This is an open question and I am interested in your thoughts. How do we take the information from Social Media and place it into the correct context for the incident? Are  technologies available to integrate Social Media posts into a geospatial format that is immediately useful? How do we rate the importance of Social Media during an active emergency in order to apply the appropriate resources and man power to monitor? And what liability issues will agencies face if they “own” a Social Media site but it is not active during and emergency due to staffing issues?

I think these are important questions as the expectation for Social Media use in Public Safety is rising, maybe even faster than we are preparing for it.

Disclaimer: The content of this blog and any opinions, observations, or ideas are mine and not associated in any way with my employer, The Reedy Creek Improvement District.

Emergency Management Heroes

While completing my BS in Emergency Management, I was tasked with hyper attentiveness to the processes and principles that guide emergency managers in their daily first-respondersroutine. I studied preparedness, mitigation strategies, response, and recovery techniques, and viewed many case studies that covered a wide range of incidents that tasked the responders and those in charge to complete their jobs effectively.

Complacency is not something that those who are working diligently in Boston and in Texas to respond to these tragedies are facing. From all of the news reports that I have seen, the talented and skilled personnel on the job, from the race organizers and first responders up the chain to the Director of Homeland Security, Janet Napolatino, are doing an incredible job of providing the best service they can for the people of Boston and the population of the United States.

In Texas, the response to the explosion at the fertilizer plant has the same level of urgency and professionalism. Volunteer fire fighters, police officers, and medical personnel are working to rescue any survivors while they are treating those hurt and comforting their own.

Whether it is a national emergency such as a terrorist attack, or a local emergency such as a fire that turns into a mass casualty event, use of basic principles of emergency management does help personnel respond with a clear focus and assists in transitioning from one phase to the next.

My hats off to all responders, planners, and officials involved in directing the resources necessary to keep the public safe and highlight areas where we can improve. It is a job that requires dedication and determination from all involved, and you do not go unnoticed.

Disclaimer: The content of this blog and any opinions, observations, or ideas are mine and not associated in any way with my employer, The Reedy Creek Improvement District.

Call 9-1-1

With events continuing to unfold in Boston surrounding the bombings at the Boston Marathon, news agencies across the country are prompting anyone with information imagesCAQAKA1Trelated to the identity of the suspects whose pictures the FBI released today, to call 9-1-1.

It’s important to remember that each and every call should be treated with the same professionalism and as real until proven otherwise. You never know where the tip that will catch these individuals will come from. So, in the spirit of fighting complacency:

1. Be sure your communicators are following agency policies on gathering information.

2. If you are the law enforcement agency, gather the information and act on the information you receive, or as directed by government agencies.

3. If you are a PSAP only, transferring calls to a law enforcement agency, be sure to gather your basic information that you get on every call in case law enforcement needs contact information or names.

4. Treat every call as a real call, no matter how it sounds to you or your call taker.

5. Be professional and courteous, you never know when your call will be played on the national news networks.

Disclaimer: The content of this blog and any opinions, observations, or ideas are mine and not associated in any way with my employer, The Reedy Creek Improvement District.

Presenting a Webinar?

webinarDo you ever have the need to present a webinar? No matter what field you work in, the opportunity may arise for you to transfer information that you know, and others need to know. The following recording is of a webinar that I recently presented and helps to sort through designing your webinar based on the tools available and the goals that you may want to achieve.

Disclaimer: The content of this blog and any opinions, observations, or ideas are mine and not associated in any way with my employer, The Reedy Creek Improvement District.

The Puzzle of Team Building for 9-1-1

Building a team is not the easiest task for anyone involved in public safety communications. No matter how much thought and preparation go into the process of putting teamtogether a group of individuals and getting them to function as working group that helps and supports each other, sooner or later, a member of the team leaves, or life intervenes.

High employee turnover also affects how the team comes together. Public safety has always faced the challenge or reaching appropriate staffing levels due partly to decreased revenue, the nature of shift work, and the lack of advancement options. People who join an agency thinking that they can do the job, many times, find out later that it is not for them. They were becoming integrated into a fairly functional team and now, six months later they are gone. So the biggest challenge of building teams in public safety communications is the turnover rate. Frustrations abound not only for leaders but for front line personnel who may feel the team may never be as good as it can be.

It’s like a puzzle, someone has to fit all of the pieces together to make it all work, right?

collaborate

It depends on the type of team that you are creating and nurturing. Historically, a team is a group of people are working together for a common goal. A leader is a part of the process, sometimes dictating the direction of the team and holding people accountable for their actions. When we lose one team member, they simply insert another team member into the picture and try to mold them into the process.

What if the team looked differently? What if the team was built around the concept of collaboration and interaction? Instead of one person working to put pieces of the puzzle in place, you have a group working together on making sure when the puzzle is finished, it doesn’t come apart. The leadership is still there, they have to be, lives depend on the work that we do, but the responsibility for creating a great work product is on the team itself.

Building the 9-1-1 center of the future requires us to think outside of the puzzle, find new pieces of the puzzle, and make sure we can adapt to the needs of the customer, but also to the needs of the current and future team members. Collaboration helps to create ownership in the job that is being done, builds confidence, and promotes trust among team members.

Disclaimer: The content of this blog and any opinions, observations, or ideas are mine and not associated in any way with my employer, The Reedy Creek Improvement District.

Showcase your Communicators

NPSTW_Blog_Header1With only a week or so left before the start of National Public Safety Telecommunications Week (April 14th-April 20th) I am sure that many communications centers around the country are gearing up to honor and thank the front line personnel who answer the call for help each time someone dials 9-1-1. Whether you simply say thank you, or throw a large luncheon, offer door prizes, or write a formal declaration to be read at board meetings or city hall, there is one thing that you can do within your own jurisdiction that could make a difference to the communications center year round.

Showcase your Telecommunicators!

It’s not showing off for leaders to make an effort to educate the field personnel, ancillary departments, and the public on what actually happens in the 9-1-1 call center as calls come in and units are dispatched. A great way to start showcasing your communications center is to, quite simply, educate those people on what you do. Newsletters, whether professionally done or created in a word processor and printed out, can help get the word out about what it is really like to sit under the headset. So, here are a few more ideas to get the information out to the people who may not know, or truly understand what it is you do.

1. Newsletter: As stated above, a newsletter can be created to showcase what goes on in the communications center. This doesn’t have to be a one time deal, monthly, or bi-annual newsletters are a good way to keep information flowing and update all personnel on changes within your agency.

2. Intranet: With a basic publishing software such as Microsoft Publisher or Kompozer, you can create a sleek intranet that can be maintained behind your agency’s firewall, but still accessible to field personnel. Include job descriptions, typical shift configurations, and a description of TAC assignments and additional responsibilities that others may not now about. Introduce your personnel to the field teams in this way with a brief biography of their experience and time of service within the department.

3. Tours: Offer tours of the communications center for any personnel who want to get to know your crews better. Putting a face to the voice on the radio may help improve relations and create friendships that could last a lifetime.

4. Push the Press: Don’t just offer a press release about National Public Safety Telecommunications Week, invite the newspaper or television station in to do a story on the center and highlight the importance of the 9-1-1 personnel in the process of saving lives and property.

Probably the most important thing to remember is that Telecommunicators do their job year round, just like police officers and fire fighters. This is the one week that every telecommunicator really does want to hear the work thank you, especially from their leaders.

And, we do care about our brothers and sisters who are out in the field fighting fires and putting their lives on the line, we appreciate their service to the community and are grateful they are willing to do the job. We just want to feel like a part of the team, not a support function.

Hope everyone has a wonderful NPSTW 2013.

Disclaimer: The content of this blog and any opinions, observations, or ideas are mine and not associated in any way with my employer, The Reedy Creek Improvement District.

Reinvent The Wheel

Public Safety Communications Centers have long had a process for training new personnel. After all of the assessments are complete and they are placed in a program, it’s either class room time for a few weeks to cover the basics of 9-1-1 communications, policy and procedures, and an orientation to the position, or the personnel are placed with a training officer to do the same individually incorporating the hands on portion. This has worked, for the most part, but with tightening budgets and the need to place personnel under the headset as soon as possible, not all new hires learn at the same rate, so is this working effectively?Useless work

With technology improving almost daily, there are options for allowing the learner to set their own pace and be prepared to take on the critical role in your organization. Below, we look at a few options for streamlining the process and meeting your goals at the same time.

Policy and procedure Manuals

It is crucial to the success of any new hire to be adequately trained on the policies and procedures of your organization, but does it have to be completed in a classroom or take away from the hands on training? With available tools such as wiki’s, publisher programs, and screen share software, you can take the training out of the class room and onto the desk top. A self paced computer based training mimics online learning through educational institutions. With a little planning and creativity, you can turn your policy manuals into a comprehensive and dynamic training tool that is accessed on your computer desk tops or sectioned drives remaining behind your agencies firewall. A combination of modules that present the information in an easy to follow manner, would allow your trainers to spend more time concentrating on the hands on portion of training and developing products for in service requirements.

Software such as camtasia studio (http://www.techsmith.com/camtasia.html $299.99) allows you to record the screen you are using on your desktop in the form of a presentation to train personnel on how to use certain software such as computer aided dispatch, telephony, or resource tools. (Check with your software provider for licensing agreements about screen capture and recording for training, or write these into your request for proposal on your next purchase.) With no significant software or policy changes, you can use these indefinitely and save much-needed time and money allowing the learner to move at their own pace.

Developing an intranet resource to act as a “classroom” also is an effective means of delivering content to new hires. Links to any file on your agencies protected drives, or links out of your firewall if you allow internet access, can be provided to reinforce training, and allow you to create assessments that are geared toward your objectives.

On the subject of assessment, there are several quiz maker or test maker softwares available for free or for a nominal amount online, providing with easy access to tests and some can even score based on your setting and notify the trainer when the learner has completed the assessment.

In Service Training

Technology can also be used to provide your agency with a great in service program. Certifications for Emergency Medical, Fire, or Police Dispatch (depending on your certification authority) require continuing dispatch education to maintain certification. Building a revolving training program that reinforces policy and procedure while continuing to build much-needed skills, or exercise unused skills, is an important part of maintaining your agencies liability shield and even meet local, state, and federal requirements. Using the same tools listed for new hires, you can create a program that is specific to your needs and it is flexible, allowing you to update and change as needed.

External Sources

Organizations such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials, offer training online that is designed to enhance your training program. FEMA offers independent study programs on many topics, and they are free to anyone who wants to learn. APCO offers courses on topics related to public safety, and while there is a charge, the courses are professional and well planned. APCO also has started a subscription based training program, offering monthly topics to help your agency meet CDE requirements.

While you may not need to replace all of the spokes, reinventing or redesigning the wheel for your organization could help save money, improve comprehension, and keep your agency focused on saving lives and protecting the property of the community that you serve.

Disclaimer: The content of this blog and any opinions, observations, or ideas are mine and not associated in any way with my employer, The Reedy Creek Improvement District.

Technology in Action

The Trevor Project logo color [Converted]While most of my posts on this blog center around Public Safety Communications, my interest in technology isn’t limited by industry or career. Several non-profit organizations are taking the lead in developing technology strategies to improve their communications, provide wider access to services they provide, and educate the population at large.

One of these organizations is The Trevor Project. As stated on their website, “The Trevor Project is the leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth.”

The Trevor Project has several operational services, the most critical of which is the 24/7 call centers devoted to answering calls from youth and young adults in crisis or considering suicide. The Trevor Project also offers programs devoted to answering letters that are not critical in nature on topics ranging from sexual orientation to battling depression. Live chats are held on certain days of the week in order to reach as many people as possible who may not be able to call the Trevor Lifeline. They have built and operate a social network for LGBTQ youth and young adults to provide a safe place to communicate with peers. They create and present workshops throughout the year to educate youth, schools, civic organizations and beyond on the issue related to LGBTQ suicide.

Earlier this month, The Trevor Project announced that they are developing a platform to allow youth and young adults in need to send text messages. This could help alleviate the stress associated with dialing the call center as it would allow users with a cell phone to communicate with a trained volunteer wherever they are located. Making a call to a call center is a big step, and while the services is exceptional, not every young person has the ability to be alone in order to talk to a counselor or volunteer. Texting makes sense, and could save lives.imagesCAOM7NB4

The Trevor Project is committed to serving young people and saving lives, they are also committed to developing processes that make it easier for those in need to reach out.

Check out The Trevor Project’s home page, they are an amazing organization that is taking the lead through technology and laying the ground work for the future of non-profit service related organizations.

Also, if you work in non-profits, what other types of technology are you using to reach your target audience and provide the services you offer? Feel free to share in the comments section, I look forward to hearing from you.

Disclaimer: I fully support the work that The Trevor Project is doing and I am an active volunteer.

Disclaimer: The content of this blog and any opinions, observations, or ideas are mine and not associated in any way with my employer, The Reedy Creek Improvement District.