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So You’re the New Leader in an ECC

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  • So You’re the New Leader in an ECC

    Congratulations! You’ve just been promoted and have ascended to the rank of manager or director. Or, perhaps you’ve just received permission to start assembling the first policy and procedures manuals for your agency. Either way, you’re now in a position of influence, and every decision you make and every policy or procedure you implement, will impact not only the staff of your center, but the citizens and responders in your service area. Congratulations, you’ve just taken on a vast responsibility.

    What everyone should know who becomes an ECC director or manager. By Zachary Dykes There are many things to keep in mind as you transition from a line position to a position of management. Let’s start with a big one. Chances are that if you’ve ever thought about leading and managing a center before, your brain is full of ideas you want to implement as soon as you get to your office. That’s great; keep that fire burning. Take it slow. You’re probably asking me right now with big puppy dog eyes “but why?” By taking it slow, we’re able to see how the agency truly operates, how the staff interacts and the more subtle internal emergencies that need to be addressed first. Cheryl Konarski began her role as the communications manager for the Joplin, Missouri, Emergency Communications Center in 2019. She says that it’s important to take the time to gauge where your center and personnel are before you begin implementing a host of changes. “You don’t want to overwhelm everyone, yourself included.”

    There is a possibility that the center you just took command of isn’t the one that you’ve worked at for your entire career because some centers like to hire from outside of their agency. So, if you’ve just begun at a new center, it’s important to take the time to get to know your new staff. Konarski offers that “learning a bit about each person, not only from a work perspective, but from a personal one as well” will help. However, that’s a twoway street. You also need to let people know the real you and what experiences and passions you have that can benefit them and the center as a whole.

    As a line operator, I can attest to how important this next point is. It’s important to remember to be transparent, or as transparent as you can be. Ask for input from your staff when you can, and share the information that you can share. Cheryl offers that it may be beneficial to establish workgroups that help to both troubleshoot and provide feedback. “It helps you get other perspectives,” she says, “along with some history if you are at an agency that you didn’t formerly work at.” Transparency itself can also reduce the amount of stress that your staff feels. By knowing what is going on, and being asked for input, we as line operators feel as if we have a say in the workings of the center and that our thoughts and feelings truly matter.

    No matter if you’re the current or new manager or director of a center, or have been tasked with developing your agency’s first policy manual, it’s important to take this responsibility seriously. The policies and procedures you write and enact will impact all levels of your center’s service.

    But, what’s the difference between a policy and a procedure? According to the APCO Institute, policies are guides to thinking, listing the overall goal for that particular policy — think uniform policy. Procedures, on the other hand, are guides to action 1 and are meant to assist telecommunicators through a task — think missing person questioning procedures. Both are instrumental in the day-to-day center operation and are essential to being prepared for the unexpected catastrophe looming just around the corner.

    I know what you’re thinking, writing these seems like such a daunting task, right? Never fear, APCO is here! Through its Standards Development Committee, APCO International has developed numerous nationally accredited standards that are categorized as either operational, technical or training in nature. To receive approval through the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), the Standards Development Committee goes through a very lengthy and in-depth process to ensure the information contained within is pertinent industry-wide. APCO then places these standards (for free) on its website so that centers throughout the world can use them in developing their own policies and procedures. You can view and download these standards by visiting APCO’s website or by going directly to the standards page located at: standards-to-download/. “APCO’s nationally accredited standards establish the framework and roadmaps for internal policies, procedures and processes. The interconnection between standards, policies, procedures and processes can be a powerful tool for public safety communications agencies,” says Stacy Banker, Standards Program & Consulting Services Manager for APCO.

    Sometimes, though, it’s beneficial to get different perspectives, especially if you’re writing your first policy and procedure manual. Don’t forget that you’ve got a large network of helpers at your fingertips through APCO’s PSConnect website. Every day, members of our industry help each other by sharing their thoughts, opinions, and their center’s policies and procedures through the site.

    One final word of warning when developing policies and procedures: be careful not to go overboard. Banker suggests that before you enact a policy, ask yourself the following questions: “What am I trying to achieve with this?” “Is it needed?” “Who does it impact?” “What standards can I align with to ensure that the internal policies and procedures we have are based on established standards and best practices?” So, before you develop that policy that the air temperature of the communications center must remain a constant 75 degrees, take a few minutes to reflect.

    Congratulations! You’ve just transitioned to a position of great responsibility, but don’t feel overwhelmed: use your staff by developing workgroups to troubleshoot and gain input and perspective. Take time to self-reflect when setting policies and procedures. Oh, and don’t forget the free resources you have at your disposal — both through APCO’s standards and the vast network of contacts through PSConnect. Good luck on your journey, and remember, you’re now in a position of influence. Go and be a positive influence on your center and community!

    Zachary Dykes began his career in emergency communications in 2010 as a 9-1-1 operator at a small sheriff’s office in Southwest Missouri. In 2013 he began his career with the with the Missouri State Highway Patrol, where he serves as a Communications Operator and a Certified Training Operator. In conjunction with his duties at the Patrol, he is a certified public-safety instructor with the Missouri Professional Training Partnership.