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The backbone of effective emergency response lies in the hands of 911 telecommunicators.
These dedicated professionals play a crucial role in ensuring timely and accurate responses to all types of emergencies. However, the increasing number of retirees and professionals leaving the industry, mixed with the lack of new call takers applying for the roles needing to be filled, has highlighted a pressing need to boost staffing levels. In this blog, we’ll explore practical strategies to attract and retain skilled individuals for these critical roles.

1. Proactive Training and Certifications

Investing in comprehensive training programs and certifications is key to equipping 911 call takers and dispatchers with necessary skills. Only 44% of telecommunicators surveyed by NENA felt adequately trained to respond to most crises*, which certainly shows the disconnect.

Leadership should consider partnering with a reputable training company to ensure that staff members receive up-to-date and relevant education. Continuous training not only enhances performance but also boosts confidence in handling diverse emergency situations. This confidence can help your call takers be prepared for the types of calls they’ll ultimately receive.

Providing your employees with certification opportunities can also offer them an additional incentive for career advancement and shows your investment in them as team members.

2. Competitive Pay and Benefits

One of the most effective ways to attract and retain skilled professionals is by advocating and offering competitive pay and benefits. Leadership must recognize the demanding nature of 911 call taking and reflect this understanding in the compensation packages. A well-structured benefits program, including health insurance, retirement plans, and other perks, can make these positions more attractive to prospective candidates.

While you may not always have that much decision-making power for things like pay and benefits, advocating for your team can often go a long way.

One way we can encourage a universal increase in benefits for telecommunicators is by supporting the 911 SAVES bill. This legislation would reclassify Public Safety Telecommunicators as a “Protective Service Occupation” in the federal government’s Standard Occupational Classification system. This would provide telecommunicators with additional equity in responder benefits like mental health support and the ability to apply for government grants. You can learn more about this initiative and reach out to your members of Congress here.

3. Incentive Programs for Career Advancement

Create a clear career advancement path for your 911 call takers. Instituting incentive programs that reward continuous learning, exemplary performance, and tenure can motivate employees to stay and grow within the organization. This not only benefits the individual but also ensures a pool of experienced staff for critical roles. It can be extremely motivating for new hires to see that their hard work and dedication is not only recognized but rewarded.

4. Emotional Support and Counseling Services

Ninety percent of PSAPs surveyed by NENA provide some type of support service, however only 18% of telecommunicators use them*. This may be an indication of a lack of awareness of the services available to them or maybe even an overall dismissal of the use of them. Either way, there’s a disconnect.

Working in the public safety industry can be emotionally taxing due to the nature of the calls they handle. Recognizing and addressing the mental health needs of these professionals is crucial. Implementing counseling services and support programs can help them cope with stress and trauma. Creating a culture that prioritizes mental well-being contributes to a healthier and more resilient workforce.

Leadership in PSAPs and emergency response centers should encourage their telecommunicators to use these mental health services and make them easily accessible.

5. Flexible Scheduling Options

Acknowledge the challenging schedules that come with emergency response roles. Offering flexible scheduling options, such as compressed workweeks when feasible, can enhance work-life balance. This flexibility can be a deciding factor for individuals considering a career in 911.

6. Community Engagement and Recognition

Foster a sense of pride and community among your team. Highlight their contributions through community engagement initiatives and recognition programs. By showcasing the importance of their role in public safety, decision-makers can enhance job satisfaction and instill a sense of purpose in their staff.

A multifaceted approach to staffing.

By making these critical workplace changes, leadership can create an environment that attracts and retains the dedicated professionals needed in public safety.

* 2023 Carbyne and NENA Pulse of 9-1-1: State of the Industry Survey