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Gardening in 9-1-1 to Survive & Thrive




By

911 Training Institute

 


What could an Emergency Communications Center possibly have in common with the flowers in a garden? More than you might think!

 

So, there I was, down on my hands and knees in my front yard. The sun was beating down and I had underestimated the amount of time it was taking to do some yard work… not how I wanted to spend my Saturday. But I was fully committed now, so onward I forged.


Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy doing yard work, in fact, I love it. When I was a kid, my paternal grandma would spend hours picking weeds out of her front lawn, meticulously pulling them out one-by-one; and my maternal grandad always had a garden he planted with various vegetables. So, while many of my friends today end up murdering their plants, my little green thumb helps my happy plants “Survive & Thrive” (pun intended if you’ve taken this training class with us at 911TI).


The germanium flowers were in full bloom in the flower beds at the front of my house. Their lush green leaves made the plants look full at the bottom and the red blooming flowers were eye-catching in front of the background of my white house. They looked beautiful. But there was a problem. I had known about the problem for a few weeks but kept making excuses and putting off addressing it, until today.


An ugly weed had made its home in the far corner of the flower bed. When I say ugly, I mean UGLY! It had long green stems sprouting out of the ground that was lined with these little, fuzzy pricklies. At first, I didn’t think much of it because it was in the corner, far enough away from the flowers I didn’t think it needed immediate attention. But soon, I started to notice this weed sprout up along the entire length of the flower bed, breaching through the middle of the green leaves of the germaniums. Today was its day of reckoning and I was taking no prisoners.


However, the problem was much worse than I could see. As I pulled out these weeds, parts of the flowers were coming up too. I dug deeper and discovered the problem. The roots of the weeds were entangled with the roots of the germaniums. The weeds were literally choking the life out of my flowers. It was so bad in some places that it affected the flower all the way up to its blooming pedals, which had already begun to wilt. Extracting the weeds and saving the flowers was a painstaking process that took several hours, but once the flower beds were clear the germaniums were free to soak up all the fertilizer, water, and sunshine.


And then it occurred to me… my flower beds are just like Emergency Communications Centers (ECCs) trying to provide an environment for their employees to flourish.


Imagine with me for a moment, your ECC is like the flowerbed in a garden. The dispatchers who staff the center are like individual flowers planted in the soil. They can be beautiful, full plants with blooming flower buds, or they can wilt and wither as they die. There are factors that threaten this environment, which can potentially have catastrophic effects on the plants, but there are also strategic things we can do to give those plants some tender loving care that will help ensure they flourish.


Threats to the Environment

I’ve had the pleasure of visiting hundreds of ECCs across the country: some big, some small, some urban, and some rural. No matter the size or location, ECCs have the same desire to provide an environment where their employees will flourish, thereby empowering them to provide the absolute best care and service to the communities they serve. Unfortunately, there are factors that can have significant impacts on the stability of this environment. If these factors go unaddressed, they can rob employees of job satisfaction and fulfillment, which will stunt their ability to flourish.


Gossip

Gossip presents a challenge to most ECCs. Why though? Dispatchers in ECCs are often tethered to their computer consoles by the headsets they wear. They sit behind consoles next to their coworkers for long hours, so when it’s not busy in the ECC, they talk to one another since they cannot leave. They often learn very personal details that they self-disclose with one another. Nothing wrong with that at all. But this also presents a unique opportunity: to talk about other coworkers who are not present. Unfortunately, sometimes it’s not positive information that is shared. Instead, it’s the thrill and excitement of knowing “juicy” information about someone and then sharing it with others to solicit a reaction. Gossip breeds negativity, and that weed can entangle itself with the roots of all the plants slowly choking them to death.


Poor Equipment

Today’s ECCs are complex command centers managing various forms of communications, both external and internal. Phone calls, text messages, multi-media messages, live-streaming video, social media platforms, and radio transmissions flood into ECCs every day. Dispatchers need proper equipment that will help them comfortably accomplish the demands of their job. Outdated equipment slow in performance does not create an environment where dispatchers can flourish. Imagine taking a plant out of the flowerbed and placing it on your concrete driveway and expecting it to flourish. That plant needs the soil of the earth to flourish, just like dispatchers need the right equipment in their ECC environment (computers, hardware, software, consoles, chairs, etc.).


Lack of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI)

ECCs are staffed with people. People come from different backgrounds, have different life experiences, and have different values and beliefs. It’s important that people staffing an ECC are as diverse as the communities they serve. A diverse ECC welcomes employees with different values and beliefs from different backgrounds. Diversity enriches the ECC and creates an environment that is inclusive where employees are encouraged to share different ideas, based on their unique experiences, that can improve service and operations.

 

Tender Loving Care

Unlike field-responders, dispatchers in ECCs are “stuck” in the same environment, in close proximity to their coworkers for their entire shift. Field-responders can change their physical environment, including the people who are in that environment, by driving around throughout their beat/jurisdiction. I did this often as a police officer in the field. That patrol car gave me the ability to change the environment. On the other hand, dispatchers in ECCs are not afforded that opportunity. They sit behind consoles next to their coworkers for long hours and cannot leave the ECC. Their environment is static. But those working dispatchers are just like flowers in the garden: they are both living beings. They still need tender loving care, even if there are no threats to the environment.


Supportive Leadership

Tender loving care in the ECC starts with supportive leadership. All ECC’s, no matter the size or location, have people in leadership positions. It doesn’t matter if these leaders are sworn or civilian, leadership positions exist in all ECCs. Governing boards, executive directors, command staff, administrative managers, and supervisors all have different leadership roles in the operations of an ECC. Even though leadership is a constant, it can vary drastically in degrees, just like the temperature in weather flowers in a garden experience. If a garden sits in full sun all day, plants may thrive at the beginning, but they might face the risk of wilting in extreme heat. If a garden sits in full shade all day, plants may thrive at the beginning, but they might experience stunt in growth without any sunshine. People serving in leadership positions in ECCs need to recognize when the center needs sunshine and when it needs shade to optimize recovery and growth employees experience.


Continuing Education and Training

Most ECCs do a fantastic job of training new employees, whether that is mandated training standardized throughout the state or training that is localized and delivered onsite at the ECC. But training must go beyond new employee onboarding. Imagine planting a new flower in your garden, getting it all settled, watering it for three days, and then leaving it. Many of the dispatchers I’ve met hunger for continuing education and training, even long into their careers. It’s a misconception to believe that training is only important for newer employees early in their careers; it is equally important for veteran employees to help with continued sustainability.


Enhanced Support Services

Jim Marshall, CEO of the 911 Training Institute, has always said, “Dispatchers are extraordinary caregivers who provide extraordinary service to their communities, so they need extraordinary resources to support them.” The standard offerings of traditional Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) are no longer sufficient. The duties and responsibilities of dispatchers serving in ECCs expose them to significant amounts of trauma and chronic stress. They need enhanced support services like Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) and Peer Support teams, partnership with public-safety culturally competent mental health professionals, and Comprehensive Stress Resilience Programs that help address the unique stressors dispatchers experience. Without these enhanced support services, ECCs put their employees at risk of feeling diminished job satisfaction, compassion fatigue, and serious occupational stress-related injuries, all of which can lead to other challenges for the ECC, like employee retention.

 

Conclusion

Dispatchers serving in ECCs need loving care, just like flowers growing in a garden. Enhanced support services, continuing education and training, and supportive leadership help nourish employees, inspiring professional growth. Since employees in an ECC are unable to change their physical environment, leaders need to identify the unique talents and strengths of their employees and find creative opportunities to nourish them. But there are several things, like lack of DEI, poor equipment, and gossip that can threaten the stability of the environment. Any threat must be addressed as soon as possible; otherwise, such threats have the potential to wreak greater havoc, impeding employee growth, thereby impacting center operations and the quality of service delivered to communities.


My mistake was thinking the weed in the far corner of my flowerbed was not a problem because it appeared small and far-removed. This lazy, complacent attitude ended up causing me more work than if I had addressed it upon original discovery. Embrace a proactive mindset and tend to your ECC just like you would your garden and you will help your employees not only survive, but flourish and thrive.

 

 

 

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Ryan, as always, you hit the nail on the head. Every area you touched on it meant to nurture and support everyone in our ECC. Being able to recognize when someone needs that tender, loving care is important. As leaders we need to be aware, but even more importantly, as peers. If we cannot be there for each other, then we have work to do. Thank you my friend!

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