This is the third in a series of articles from MONOC Mobile Health Services. MONOC is New Jersey's largest provider of EMS and medical transportation and first CAAS-accredited agency. The goal of this series is to provide insight and solutions for the different managerial and operational challenges facing the EMS leaders of tomorrow. For more, see www.monoc.org.
The heart of every strong, high-performance EMS system is an outstanding communications center. Without a team of dedicated communications specialists and management staff, an EMS system is doomed to underperform and not achieve its full potential. This article offers a "build-it-yourself" approach to designing or reinventing your communications center.
Every high-performance EMS communications center has five critical elements: staffing, education, physical design (includes location, layout/type of equipment, and layout of communication specialist's positions), quality control processes and management.
Within every organization lies a culture of either complacency or a strong, knowledgeable and aggressive attitude. The communications center is where you can establish your culture and motivate your field staff to strive to achieve the best possible results. People hired for the communications center must be strictly screened to ensure they are high-caliber employees who seek to out-perform others, but still have an approachable demeanor when they answer the phone or radio to deal with a would-be customer.
The optimum screening process includes developing a written entrance exam that will test candidates' ability to prioritize multiple events, such as a mock MCI with limited resources, or setting up a staging plan on a map to see how they will post their units. A mapping test should also include different times of days and number of resources to obtain a full picture of how they see events. A typing test should be conducted to determine how quickly, effectively and accurately they can type. The communications specialist candidate should then meet with a panel of managers to be questioned in a rapid-fire manner with multiple open-ended questions. The managers will need to develop a high-pressure approach that pushes candidates to their limit and tests their ability to maintain composure under high stress while dealing with multiple events simultaneously.
An optional step in the process is to have the candidate return for a second interview where staff-level communications specialists interview the candidate to ensure that he/she will fit into the team.
In today's economic climate, many agencies are seeking ways to reduce costs, such as reduced training and orientation. To reduce or eliminate communications training can have a negative impact on the agency's overall bottom line. When employees lack the knowledge and understanding that comes with education, poor decisions are made, resulting in recognized or unrecognized costs. To limit poor decisions and resulting costs, an agency needs superior training and education.
Initial education should include introduction to the agency's culture, personnel policy and procedures, along with a clear explanation of salary, medical benefits and 401K/pension options. The newly hired employee should then be entered into a specific training program that covers the National Academy Emergency Dispatch (NAED) Basic Telecommunicator course (BTC) and Emergency Medical Dispatcher (EMD); command structure of the communication center; an overview of the technology that provides the backbone of the CAD, including the data back-up measures and back-up power management; response area and map reading (if GPS systems fail); telephone system; radio communications system, including the radio transmitter and receive sites; and in-depth instruction on call-taking, prioritizing calls, radio etiquette and medical terminology.