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Why successful 911 telecommunicators must adapt to change

06 Apr 2018 10:43 AM | International Public Safety Association (Administrator)

By Anne Camaro, IPSA 911 Telecommunications Committee Member, Assistant Director of Administration and Training Cambridge Emergency Communications

As we gear up to celebrate another National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week, it is important to pave the way for new telecommunicators as they make their way from the classroom to the communications center. Whether working eight or 12-hour shifts, dispatchers know that no shift is ever like the last one. The uncertainty of the next call, the excitement of the next chase and the relief of the resolution are the only constants. The situations, the names and the people are ever changing in a web of stories that become the reason we choose to stay.

Ability to adapt

Having grown up in the boom of technology of the 1990s, I still remember the first time I sat down in front of a DOS based CAD. Having to adapt from mouse clicks to keyboard tabs was no easy task, however, that was the first of many different things I had to adapt to throughout the years. However, not everyone can adapt in the 911 telecommunications profession.

As communications supervisors recruit new talent and promote from within, one of the most desired qualities in a candidate is adaptability. Most supervisors will not hire or promote someone who demonstrates a resistance or fear to change. Individuals who are hired to work in this profession and then become unwilling or unable to adapt to the ever-changing environment in the communications center, rarely stay. No dispatcher, at least no successful dispatcher, can stay rigid and resist change.

So how can we become more adaptable? Jennifer Garvey Berger, author of “Simple Habits for Complex Times: Powerful Practices for Leaders” describes four steps we can take to become more adaptable. To face change successfully, she states that we must shift our mindset and highlights four tips on how to get started: (1) ask different questions; (2) accept multiple perspectives; (3) consider the bigger picture and (4) experiment and learn.

Further, Jeff Boss, an adaptability coach, describes an adaptable person as someone who is open to change, who has the will to face uncertainty, and who sees opportunity where others see failure. According to Boss, adaptable people are resourceful and think ahead; they don’t whine, or place blame; and they also don’t claim fame. Adaptable people stay current, are open minded and know what they stand for. A dispatcher who possesses these traits is desirable and will become invaluable to the agency they work for because they are willing and able to go the extra mile.

Change is scary and complex. It involves coming out of our comfort zone, but if we want to succeed as 911 telecommunicators we must understand that change is part of the job description. It is inevitable. From change, the best 911 telecommunicators learn and thrive. In a field that gets more complex by the minute, a famous quote attributed to Leon C. Megginson’s work regarding Darwin’s “Origin of Species” is valid, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”


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