9-1-1 Quality Assurance Tips & Best Practices from QA Expert Garth Wireman, Greenup County (Kentucky) E-911 Center

​Located in the far northeastern corner of Kentucky, Greenup is the primary answering point for thirteen fire departments, eight police agencies and two EMS agencies. At Greenup, 9-1-1 Quality Assurance isn't just a nice to have, it's a need to have. Deputy Director Garth Wireman heads up Greenup County's Quality Assurance (QA) and training efforts. Recently I had the opportunity to sit down with Garth and discuss what makes his QA program so successful.

 Garth Wireman What percentage (or how many) and what types of calls do you QA on a routine basis, and why?

Garth: At the Greenup County E-911 Center we evaluate one call per week per dispatcher. These calls are randomly selected and each week a different discipline (police, fire, and EMS) is evaluated. We currently employ 17 full and part time dispatchers. If a part time dispatcher hasn't worked a shift for the week that you are scoring, or they don't have the type of call that would be an evaluable call I will go to their previous week and pull a call from there. It is important to evaluate current calls, so the dispatcher can remember the call and will retain what the evaluation covers.

What things do you look for when you are QA'ing a call to determine if the call was handled correctly or not?

Garth: There are two major things that I look for when evaluating calls: did the dispatcher follow proper procedure as set forth by the agency and did the dispatcher provide the best customer service possible. It's important to remember that the agency will more than likely not have a policy for every type of call; however, the dispatcher should handle the situation to the best of their ability while providing the best customer service to the citizens and responders they serve.

Some telecommunicators can be resistant to quality assurance. Have you experienced this? And over your years of doing QA what practical things have you learned or implemented that you can share with other managers that have been helpful in overcoming this resistance?

Garth: When we first started the Quality Assurance process several of our dispatchers were resistant to it. They said it made them feel like they were constantly being watched and picked apart for everything they'd done. However, as time went on the dispatchers started being more particular on the calls that they were taking and dispatching because they wanted a good QA score. They even got to the point where if they had a good call or a call that they didn't do so well on they would ask me to review it, so they could learn from their mistakes. QA is not always a disciplinary tool; however, if the dispatcher continues to make the same mistakes disciplinary actions may be necessary. But first and foremost, QA should be used as a training and teaching tool to improve the service the dispatchers are providing. When implementing a QA process, you must sell it to the dispatchers as a training tool and not a disciplinary tool. Eventually, you'll find that your dispatchers will start engaging and actually 'competing with themselves' to improve their performance.

Following on the question above, do you adhere to the principle or idea that Quality Assurance should be as much about catching what telecommunicators are doing right, as what they might be doing wrong? If so are there any specific things you do at Greenup to recognize or reward telecommunicators for excellent performance?

Garth: I absolutely believe in catching what telecommunicators are doing right! If you do not give credit and kudos on calls where it is due, then you will burn your dispatchers out and they will not care about the QA process. It's important to meet with the dispatchers who don't meet expectations on a review. But it's equally important to meet and praise the dispatchers who exceed expectations on a call. The QA process must be a positive learning and training tool! At Greenup County E-911 any dispatcher who receives a 100% on their QA review is entered into a drawing at the annual awards banquet. Also, if a dispatcher has a call that is above and beyond we will award them with a letter of commendation during telecommunicator's week. We are always open to ideas on how to reward our dispatchers for the exceptional work they do.

What are some of the creative things you've implemented as part of your QA program at Greenup that other managers might not have considered or thought of?

Garth: The most creative thing that we've done at Greenup E911 is getting the dispatchers to look forward to being evaluated. The employees now ask to be evaluated on calls that they know they've performed well on and we are always sure to oblige. They are also forthcoming when they made a mistake and some request for those calls to be evaluated as well, so they can learn from their mistakes. All around our QA program is used for constructive criticism and positive leaning and teaching and our dispatchers like to better themselves and be the best that they can be.

I understand that Greenup will soon be taking 9-1-1 texts in addition to voice calls. How do you intend to incorporate text-to-911 into your QA routine?

Garth: When we start taking text-to-911 calls they will be reviewed (just as we review our regular voice calls). However, there will be a different evaluation form with different criteria that the dispatcher must follow. In some respects, this form will be the same as far as types of questions that are asked for voice calls, but questions related to the way information is distributed and received will have to be modified. The dispatcher will be scored on gathering information, text comprehension, and how well they communicate with the caller via text.

What criteria do you plan on using to review 9-1-1 text calls and how will that be different from (or the same as) voice calls?

Garth: Text-to-911 QA is just getting started in many areas. I will search for current APCO/NENA standards to use while evaluating text-to-911 calls. I will also consult with other centers that are currently taking text-to-911 calls to learn how they evaluate the text calls they receive. A text call should be handled in the same manner as a voice call with the exception of how the dispatcher gathers and relays information. It will be very important for the dispatcher to get the critical information first during a text call because you don't have verbal contact with the caller. Dispatchers will also have to think outside of the box when answering text-to-911 calls to ensure that they are getting the most detailed information possible.

Finally, based on your experience what are the three most important things a manager can do to make sure their QA program is meaningful and successful?

Garth: To make a QA program meaningful and successful you must have buy-in from the employees who you're evaluating. Getting employees to buy into being evaluated can be difficult however it will make or break a QA program. Also, as the QA Evaluator you must ensure that you are being fair to all employees, and that you are evaluating and using their mistakes and proficiencies as learning and training tools. It is also very important to not score just one type of call (like EMD calls) but score all types of calls and all major calls that your center handles. Also make sure your QA evaluations are done regularly and on recent calls, so the dispatchers will remember the call and won't continue to make the same mistakes for a prolonged period.

Learn more about Garth and the Greenup County E911 center by viewing this video.

You can also take advantage of the resources below to learn more about 9-1-1 Quality Assurance.

About Garth Wireman:

​Garth Wireman is 25 years of age and is the Deputy Director of the Greenup County E-911 Center. Garth started his career in the emergency services at the age of 14 as a Junior Firefighter at the Load Volunteer Fire Department where he now serves as the Chief. Garth began his employment with the Greenup County E-911 Center in January 2013 as a Telecommunicator and then was promoted to the Midnight Shift Supervisor. During his tenure as Midnight Shift Supervisor Garth was charged with building and implementing a comprehensive Quality Assurance Program. Garth was recently promoted to the Deputy Director of the Greenup County E-911 Center. Garth is a Certified Training Officer for his agency and serves as the Second Vice President for Kentucky APCO. ​
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