Changes ahead

It’s been a LONG time since I blogged at all. In that time much has changed. I’ve completed a move, I’ve accepted a promotion that is effective July 13th and I’ve watched as my mother is entering the period of her life where I have become more of her protector and caregiver than I ever would have thought. It’s been a chaotic time to say the least.

With the new position, I will be leaving the field of dispatching after 22 years … That’s a LONG TIME to be a dispatcher/911 operator. The memories I will carry with me are, at times, overwhelming but I’m eagerly looking forward to a new challenge outside of Dispatch. I love to learn … I love to grown … I love to be a progressive person. I also love that I will still be involved in law enforcement but just in a different capacity! I wish that meant that leaving dispatching behind was going to be easy … it’s not. My heart already tears a little when I think about not putting on the headset and not sharing the adrenaline of the BIG ONES. Change is hard … and often just what we need in our lives to keep moving right along.

Thank you to all of people who stopped by to read my blogs. I’ll be closing down my business as I make the new job transition … and that includes this line of blogging. As things progress with my mom, I might consider blogging about the struggle of stepping into the parent role with your own parent. I was just thinking this morning that one of my favorite things to do when I was very small was to sit on the back of the couch and brush my mom’s beautiful hair. Now the two favorite things I do with my mom is comb through her graying hair and tuck her in as her pain meds take over to relieve her pain. Life is a series of progressions … and I want to enjoy all I can of this place right here, right now.

Thank you again for stopping by!

What’s going on?

          Commitment … Integrity … Reality … When I started my business – my website – I committed to posting a blog every Monday.  It’s been awhile since my last blog and I have a good reason – or 10 good reasons – HONEST!    Every Monday that’s gone by without a blog being posted has pricked my integrity.  If I say that I am going to do something, I will often go to the extreme to make sure it happens.  I’ve been thinking about another blog subject and attempted to start a couple of times but everything that comes out is just pure mush.  The reality is that between the time I made that commitment and now, my life changed in way I couldn’t have predicted.  Everything got re-ordered in the priority sequence.

         One of the classes I’ve designed and love to teach is a Stress Management class just for dispatchers.  Yep, I said it!  Training designed by a seasoned dispatcher for dispatchers and about dispatchers.  One of the most important things the class focuses on is where are YOU right now?  How are YOU doing with your stress level?  How do YOU even identify your stressors and what do YOU do to cope with them?  In trying to decide whether or not to make the commitment to teach this class for an agency in my State, I had to start sorting through a lot of these questions for myself.  In the daily routine of our lives, it’s not unusual for every day to be filled to the max with little down time woven in to give your brain … and your body … a well deserved rest.  Add in a couple of extra stress factors you weren’t expecting and BAM … your plate is overflowing!

          I launched my business the last week of June 2013.  Shortly after that, my mother was diagnosed with Stage 4 throat cancer.  It was a whirlwind nightmare that blew into my life, right at the wrong moment.  I was scheduled for multiple classes, every other week, of teaching my Patrol/Dispatch Communications class around the State of Idaho while still working my full time schedule and became immediately immersed in the overwhelming flood of trying to figure out what questions I didn’t even know how to ask about my mom’s cancer.  Everything in my “normal” state of Life became a little issue and everything that I don’t understand became huge.  The way I heard callers on the phones at work changed.  Petty issues really started to irritate me and anyone who wanted to argue with me made me instantly enraged.  It took awhile to get that under control.  One of the things I notice now is how much more of an impact it makes on me when I take a call of someone finding a family member deceased.  For right now, I have a much deeper, emotional reaction to those calls.  It’s because I can see myself making that same call in the not too distant future and I know I want to talk to someone who is kind and sounds like they care when I’m the one on the caller’s end.

         Dispatching, for me, has always been like that.  Once you’ve been in that person’s shoes, you tend to explain better, to feel compassion and you can use language the caller can relate to.  I have a son who had a febrile seizure when he was very young.  It scared me horribly.  I get it when I’m on the phone and the parent can’t calm down and listen.  I remember how frightened I was and what horrible memories I have to this day of the way some of the responders made me feel.  Having been there and done that, I get it.  It is unfortunate but true … our own experiences and memories make us much better at our jobs. 

        I have wandered all over as I’m writing this blog at 4 am.  What I really started out to say is that, in re-ordering my priorities in Life, I’ve had to put my business (and this blog) on the back burner for now as I spend as much time as possible getting myself to work for my scheduled shifts, being my mom’s care taker and managing what has to be managed outside of those two things.  In the meantime, we’ve just bought a new house to get my mom moved into town to be closer to resources and are currently trying to get our place ready to go on the market (Please read between the lines where it says this is so overwhelmingly frustrating and temporary but necessary!!!).  Add that to the normal life stuff and … well … It’s a mess!  My intention is to post when I have the time, the energy and something worth posting.  Please stay tuned … This, too, shall pass.  I am committed to continuing this adventure when priorities re-order themselves again. 

          If you made it this far, thank you for reading.  Wishing you joy … Eda

         

Figuring out how to work smarter instead of harder

     “The worst distance between two people is misunderstanding.” 

I saw this little piece of wisdom after I had a misunderstanding … or two … with a couple different people over the phone the other day.  The first person wasn’t happy with the fact that I don’t have time to explain that I’m placing a caller on hold in a calm, unhurried manner with an explanation that there will be a beeping noise coming on the line to indicated the line is on hold while I answer a 911 call.  In this case, the person hung up and called back because the caller’s interpretation was that I wasn’t doing my job correctly.  Since the 911 call was a medical call that I needed to send assistance to, the caller and I were destined to not come to a mutual understanding of what “appropriate” customer service was in this case.

The second instance was with an officer … an officer who routinely talks but doesn’t listen when you speak back … particularly on the phone.  I have a hard time when I can tell people aren’t paying attention to what I’m saying.  I try to manage my end of every phone call in a manner that allows for the correct processing of the information that is being relayed.  I tend to anticipate where the call is headed, try to ask clarifying questions (my favorite lately is “What exactly are you wanting the police to assist you with today with THIS call?”) and I economize my words – if I can.  I tend to spend time trying to educate callers on what we can or cannot do and why in either case.  With officers, I want them to respect my ability to be an asset to them on the road AND I want them to treat me with the respect that two professionals should automatically be extending to each other.  If you’re a dispatcher, you may see where I often end up disappointed.  Unfortunately, I am disappointed in myself and my actions as often as I am frustrated with the end users.  I somehow expect that person to know what my expectations are and I expect them to meet them.  When they don’t, I tend to react instead of just letting things go by. 

Learning to not react to people who push your buttons is difficult.  The buttons tend to change from time to time as well as who  it is that is pushing them.  It often all starts over a simple misunderstanding that leads to one party in the interaction feeling slighted or offended.  A simple misunderstanding becomes an all out war of words or actions because one party won’t back down or give in.  Sometimes it behooves us to just let things alone … to not react to the desire to continue to press for the victory in a battle that doesn’t matter in the end.  There are times that it’s vital to hold your ground but is it when a citizen who has no concept of what you do is upset with their interpretation of your lack of “quality” customer service?  Is there any way to explain that if it was them or their loved one needing the ambulance, police or fire that they wouldn’t want you to take time to explain in a  calm, polite, unhurried manner that you are placing them on hold and they will hear a beeping noise?  The answer is, of course, NO.  On the other side, is there a way to make cops listen when you are talking?  NO.  The decision of the end user to be involved in the process is up to them … how you react to it is up to you.  As for me, I need to get better at just letting it go and moving on to the next challenge that will hopefully be a bit more meaningful!

Maneuvering through Power Struggles

Emergency services dispatchers are quite the unique group of individuals.  In our career field you can find all sorts of interesting people with amazing stories of how they ended up being a dispatcher and why they stay.  You get to interact with all sorts of personality types from the minimally involved to the over-the-edge emotionally involved folks.  Quite honestly, I think there could be a market for a day-time soap called “As the Dispatch Center turns …. “.

In just the past couple of weeks, I’ve started thinking about the INTERNAL customer service within the emergency services spectrum that tends to illicit the most powerful emotional responses.  You know what I mean … the snarky response from a dispatcher in the room with you … or from a dispatcher from another agency that you’ve called, in the middle of a hot call, who feels the desire to treat you like you are an idiot.  Or the officer on the road who tells you for the HUNDREDTH time in that shift to do something that is as second nature as closing your car door before you drive off.  Or the fire guy/gal who’s asking you for the update to their call in the middle of your initial dispatch procedure.  It is amazing how just one little verbal interaction like that can push the “FIGHT” button and suddenly you find yourself in the heat of battle when you didn’t even see it coming.  (There’s rarely a FIGHT, FLIGHT or FREEZE issue here … no sir, it’s straight to FIGHT!)

I’ve actually been thinking about this whole “explosive” issue for several months now and trying to figure out how to just side step these potential land mine situations to reduce work stress and, ultimately, provide the best customer service I can for the people of the community, as well as, the agencies we provide service for.  That’s a tough thing to unravel.  Our end goal in every situation is to meet the needs of the people we serve while ensuring responder safety to the best of our ability.  (Refer back to previous blogs if that sentence makes you immediately think “We can’t help everybody!”  You’re right – but we can usually, at least, point them in the right direction.)  As I’ve taken these situations apart (after the fact) and looked at how things all reached a boiling point, I’ve noticed a couple of things I believe are the main contenders in the ring.  The first one that popped out was the issue of being the “middle man” in situations. (If you work alone in your Center on your shift, this won’t apply!)

Here’s an example:  Let’s say I’m the dispatcher on a primary channel (could be police or fire) but was not the call taker for the call they are responding to.  Responding units almost ALWAYS have more questions than the dispatcher has answers to.  Why?  Because they are formulating a plan of how they are going to approach, what equipment they are going to need to take in with them and how many resources they might need.  In Dispatch, we’re often in motor skill mode, going through the routine of asking the appropriate questions, based on your department policies, and getting our units dispatched out.  Dispatchers are thinking about 20 things all at the same time while processing the call but we don’t process the information the same as the field units.  We don’t have the luxury of past experience on scene to draw from, we don’t have more than one person (usually) participating in a conversation while driving to the scene to figure out how to handle the information AND we usually are moving on to the next call.  Field units have the ability to process the information, pick it apart and formulate more questions as they are driving to the scene.

When the field units start asking for more information on a call and you’ve already given them everything that is in the call narrative box on your screen, you are faced with three responses:  1) I don’t know,  2) I’ll call the reporting party back, or 3) Let me have you speak with the call taker (then route them to a channel they can talk on).  Does #3 surprise you?  If so, why?  Why do I want to be the person in the middle taking questions from the field unit to have to ask the call taker to have to tell the field unit who will ask for more information from the call taker?  It’s a never-ending loop that causes even more confusion because time is wasted in the back and forth question asking where there really doesn’t have to be a middle person – i.e. YOU!  And how many times does the call taker already have that piece of information that the field unit is looking for but just didn’t get it in the call???

Another example:  You have a field unit requesting an agency assist from another department.  In most circumstances, the field unit has usually been on their call for a period of time and has TONS more information than you have.  My favorite way to handle these requests is to see if the officer on scene can call the other agency to make the request.  That allows the correct information to be passed on to the other agency AND the dispatcher from that agency can interrogate ask all the pertinent questions that they need according to their policies and procedures.  That, again, takes the middle man out of the way and allows the two participants in the actual event to be clear about what the needs and expectations are.

Being the middle man is one of the most frustrating parts of the job but it is actually how the Dispatch Center has to operate.  We are the receivers and relayers of information.  We’re amazing detectives who can find the most miniscule piece of information that can change the direction of an entire event.  We do so many hundreds of tasks per day that we never think about and often we do it without ever being asked or directed.  When you find yourself in those times when you are moving into a power struggle over the phone or over the radio with someone who should be on your team, step back, take a breath or two and use the “hold” button if you need to (and can).  Remember the end goal is to provide the very best service we can to the people we serve, both internally and externally.  YOUR tone of voice matters … YOUR verbiage matters … YOUR attention to detail matters … It’s tough to maintain your cool when in the heat of battle.  Instead of giving into the urge to be “right”, find ways to figure out how to not engage the battle.  In the end, everyone wins … and YOU will be making a difference, every single shift!

Update on the organizing:  I’m pleased to say the organization in our Center is coming together beautifully!  I’m confident the new trainees who are coming on soon will be able to find paper for the printer, liners for the trash cans, headsets and office supplies when they need them.  In purging and consolidating, I’ve found we have more storage area than I thought we had.  Let the de-cluttering continue as I move on to the kitchenette area next week!  Woohoo …. 😉

Kick start your year with organization

Happy 2014!  If you’re reading this blog that means you survived the Christmas season AND New Year’s.  Congratulations!  Good news!  Next up it’s time to tackle the new year.  One of the first things I like to do at work (and in my home life) at the beginning of the year is take inventory of where I am versus where I want to be and then try to identify what’s standing in my way.  Honestly, I usually find my biggest problem is myself.  There are things I want to do or have but either chose not to put in the work to accomplish the objective or I want to do or have them for the wrong reasons.  Either way, until I know where I want to direct my energy, I am dreaming versus achieving.  In order to achieve, there must be a plan followed by action on my part. 

The first thing I did this last week was start clearing out things that aren’t helpful or useful to me and organizing what’s left.  That means my wall locker at work needed a little bit of an overhaul and so did my workout locker.  I sorted through paperwork that tends to linger around as new policies and memos come out on a regular basis.  I try to keep them corralled into a folder that is organized under logical areas where I can find them.  It is also a handy resource to pass along to trainees during their training phase so they understand WHY I am telling them to do something in a particular manner.  Adult learners are not really impressed with the “Because I said so” method of teaching.  Having something on paper, with the supervisor’s name on it, tends to lend more credibility to the directive.  I also find it very useful to save the old policies since I need to refer them from time to time.  Talking about cleaning out and organizing, January is also a great time to go through all those emails that have accumulated over the past year (or longer) to see what isn’t needed any more.  Look at what types of emails are in your in-box and create folders that you can separate emails into for easy retrieval.  I went to a class in October where the instructor shared that she has an email folder set up for the “officer safety” bulletins that come out through the email system.  Once she reads the email, it is moved to the appropriate folder and remains there until the person is located.  What a simple tip!  Instead of searching around trying to remember who sent the email out or when it came out, BOOM – one click and she got it all at her fingertips.  I tried it … I love it!

The task of organizing can be totally overwhelming, especially in an area where there are common areas that multiple people share.  If you work in a Center where everything is “dress-right-dress” and organized in a logical manner, you won’t need the rest of this blog.  If you work in a Center that is more on the “free spirit” organizational plan, then here are some suggestions.  Tackle small tasks at first as you get started.  I’ve started with the three drawer chests that are at each console.  As I move around to different positions, I toss out stuff that doesn’t need to be in the drawers and organize them all in the same manner so that in each position you can expect to find the pens and the cards (for when the CAD crashes) in the same place – very handy in an emergency.  My next project is going to be organizing and labeling the storage cabinets in the Center so everyone can find what they are looking for without having to look in every single drawer and cabinet.   I’ll move on to the mail room area and the kitchen area after that.  When everyone in the Center knows where they can expect to find supplies, even in the middle of the night, the Center just works better.

None of us can do EVERYTHING in a Center but we can all do just one small thing to help the Center work more efficiently and effectively.  Whether you are one of the ones who’s a “go getter” and loves to be involved in making things work better or you are one of the ones that is better at just helping to maintain the level of clutter that tends to accumulate in the Center, we ALL have a part to play.   You really only need about a minute of your day and some attention to detail on your part to make a difference in your Center every single shift!

 

Taming your tongue

Dealing with the busy-ness of the holiday season is always difficult but in the world of emergency services I believe it tends to be even more overwhelming.  Trying to get your shopping squeezed in during a time when co-workers are calling in sick (too much stress can make the body physically sick) and attempting to figure where and when the holidays are going to happen (we won’t even discuss the “which place are we going when” conversations) are pretty routine for this time of the year.  In addition, the calls for things taken from vehicles or front yards increases as the public wants to educate dispatchers on how unfair it is that they have to lock their vehicles in front of their own home or at the store.  They don’t like hearing that there isn’t much to be done about Christmas decorations taken out of the front yard in the dark of the night with no footprints to follow or evidence pointing at who did it.  Callers are stressed, dispatchers are stressed and everyone starts to think it’s someone else’s fault.

Most often in the call taking process, it is the dispatcher who is going to have to be the one to back down when a caller is verbally upset or escalating.  Let’s face it – if you’ve been dispatching very long, you know when you’ve crossed “the line” and are pushing buttons in retaliation instead of using your voice and verbiage to de-escalate the caller.  (This happens when the caller is calling for some non law enforcement issue and refuses to listen to the information or instruction provided by the dispatcher, not in life or death situations.)  I attended a customer service class many years ago where the instructor wasn’t law enforcement  oriented but she made good sense.  She told the class that the end goal of each phone contact is to get the person calling either to where they need to be or give them information on where they need to go to get what they need.  With lots of calls into a public safety dispatch center, you have to LISTEN and ask pointed and specific questions to ferret out what the person is REALLY needing versus what they are asking you.  Point in case – A parent will call and demand “I want you to get out here and I want my son OUT!”.  The parent on the phone is already agitated before they called in and it is obvious that there is something going on.  In order to decide how to help, there has to be a combination of getting the caller to calm down AND asking good questions to determine what is actually going on at the house.  In order to assist in situations like this (depending on what your agency’s policies are), it is important that you are educated on the elements of a crime and the difference between civil law and criminal law.

I’ve talked to a lot of very unhappy people during the past few months and have found that some can be reasoned with and some can’t.  At the end of each call, my goal is not to have a “happy” caller.  My goal is to know that I’ve provided the caller with service by either getting them the help they need or by pointing them to where they can help themselves.  I can’t make them happy but I can make sure they have the tools to help themselves when I hang up.  Another great tip that a dispatcher I work with gave me is to give the caller my name.  She said “Once you give them your name, they can’t WAIT to hang up and they rarely call back”.  I’ve tried this tip.  It’s backfired a couple of times but it’s a good thing for the citizen because they don’t have to go through their (usually) very long story all over again.  (Again, follow your agency’s policies and procedures.)  It’s possible to make a difference with every single shift … if you’re willing to go above and beyond all the time.

Wishing you all a time of contemplation and quiet at some point during this week.  Remember, the value of the life we are living is directly proportionate to what we’re giving up to have it.

Change is inevitable

Aside

With elections passed for the city I work for, our department is now facing the uncertainty of the changes a new mayor will have.  It reminds me a lot of the same type of tension the changing of the sheriff brought when I worked for a county agency.  Change is always scary.  It rarely manifests in the same way we think it will, but just thinking about what “might” happen is always stressful.  For our Dispatch Center, it has taken on a higher level of anxiety because the dreaded “c” word was uttered – in the media – within days of the new mayor being elected.  I’m talking about consolidation.  Talk about amp’ed up stress level.  Suddenly things that you think are set and in place appear to be wavering on the horizon.

Change is one of the things in Life that we can count on.  Every day, things change.  Sometimes we miss the little changes because we’re so focused on what “might” happen.  Sometimes we are in denial and refuse to see that things are changing.  Whatever our stance is, things still change.  Our perception of reality coupled together with our expectations often point us towards how we interpret the looming change; either as positive or negative.  As I have spent some time, consciously and subconsciously processing this new wrinkle in the future, I’ve found it intriguing how the mind can open to all sorts of new and exciting possibilities when you maintain the correct attitude.

On Saturday morning, I apparently had either been dreaming about the possible change or woke up and started worrying about it without being fully awake.  I was turning several thoughts and ideas over in my mind when the thought popped into my mind, very loud and clear, “I’m going wherever the cheese is”.  If you’ve read the book “Who moved my Cheese?” by Spencer Johnson, you know exactly what I’m talking about.  The premise of the book is that change is, indeed, inevitable but it’s up to each of us personally to decide how we are going to react to change.  There is the choice to do nothing … nothing at all … to adapt to the change and stew in the certainty that you “deserve better”.  Or you can think that you are “owed” something more than what you are being presented with for choices.  You can choose to become involved in speculation, gossip and be resistant to change that will happen in the end anyway.  Another option is to accept that change happens and, in order to continue to thrive, a decision has to be made about what is the best personal choice for us as individuals.  Sometimes you might stay in the same “maze” to find where the cheese is now being delivered to and sometimes you might need to break through a wall and find completely different maze to explore.

Change almost always tends to be seen as negative, initially, even if the change is for the good.  Knowing that fear follows the suggestion of “change” can give you the time and space you need to process through how you truly feel about the change to come.  Think about the last time you started a new job or got a promotion.  It’s scary when you walk into a new situation and have no clue what you’re supposed to be doing.  As you work through the “newness”, then you start to see where you can make changes, where you can contribute more (or less) and you get snuggled into the confidence of knowing what’s going on.  If you never take a chance, you’ll never know what heights you could have soared to.  So, if there is change up ahead in your path of Life, whether it is professional or personal, approach it with the knowledge that change is scary, good or bad.  Wait for the initial gut reaction to pass and then examine the situation from all angles before deciding it is “bad” change.  It’s your choice to label it as a good or bad change … and that is mostly from the attitude you adopt in relationship to the change.

As we pause this week to honor Thanksgiving, I hope you take time to tell those you work with and those you serve how much you appreciate the opportunity to be there for them.  We are the unsung heroes of many, many emergency situations.  Our voices give comfort when it’s needed and our skills send help when it’s required.  Thank you to each of you that shows up for your shift, every day, year after year, and continues to give to those in need.  You are making a difference … every single shift!