Like so many other communications directors, 2018 PSAPs' Finest Director of the Year Liane Scharnott (Communications Center Director for the Bayside Communications Center in Bayside, Wisconsin) began her career as a public safety dispatcher. Although her life took a different path in 1997, when she traded in her headset for a badge to become a police officer, Scharnott returned to her true calling (public safety communications) as a dispatcher in January 2012 at the newly-formed, consolidated Bayside Communications Center. The center serves eight agencies across seven suburbs along Lake Michigan's north shore. She was quickly promoted to supervisor, and two years later, took the reigns as communications center director.
Through her leadership, the center has been able to secure the buy-in and funding to implement the latest technology while also developing a highly-effective staff. For example, as a communications center director, Liane created a dedicated position for a certified training officer to oversee and provide quality assurance for dispatcher training and development. (Last year alone, center staff completed over 1,730 hours of training online, at conferences/seminars, and in the classroom.) She also strengthened relationships with other area PSAPs so the agencies could benchmark and share time management, scheduling, and training requirement best practices.
Liane's leadership is defined by results. Over the past year, the Bayside Communications Center processed 112,004 emergency and non-emergency phone calls, and dispatched 79,595 calls for service with a remarkable, average dispatch handling time of 24 seconds.
Liane has also set a goal for the center to complete the necessary requirements for APCO Training Program Certification. Beyond this more immediate goal, Liane is working towards accreditation of the Bayside Communications Center.
Recently I had an opportunity to ask Liane what she loves most about her work and what advice she would have for others considering a similar career path.
What attracted you to a career in public safety communications?
Liane: Working in some facet of law enforcement afforded me the ability to truly help people in their time of need. This was something that I was always truly passionate about (helping people), although, admittedly I did not know what avenue I wanted to work in. I started my career in law enforcement as a telecommunicator for a dispatch center, and went on to pursue my degree in criminal justice. I was hired on and served as a police officer in the City of Milwaukee for nearly 7 years, before my youngest child was born. At this point, both myself and my husband worked as officers and the hours were long and hard, and not conducive to raising three kids. I decided to stay home and take care of our kids until they were all in school. During this time I did some soul searching, recognizing the void caused by not working in a field I was passionate about. I returned to Bayside, which had consolidated and now was a high-volume center. I quickly worked my way up to supervisor, and eventually director. I think this is the perfect fit for me. I have a unique perspective, as I can see things from both side of the equation which in the end helps make our dispatch center be better prepared.
What is your most memorable career experience?
Liane: My most memorable career experience was when I was able to look back at the center, and how far we had come, and watch as two of my dispatchers were provided awards for the handling of a traumatic incident in one of our jurisdictions. It was clear to me that all of the hard work and training we had built into the center had played a role in how calmly and well prepared our center was to manage a difficult incident. We are a team, and we excel or fail as one.
What do you most love about what you do?
Liane: I love that every day brings new challenges and the environment is constantly changing. There is never a day that goes by where I don't learn something new, set new goals and challenges for us, and seek to do something better. I have a great team of workers, and honestly, they make this job seem easy. However, what we know is that dispatching is inherently stressful. It's how you deal with those times, the coworkers and team you have in place, and how well equipped the PSAP is to manage the incident that determines how the center thrives.
What advice would you have for others thinking about a similar career path?
Liane: All too often I see dispatching get pushed behind the scenes. A lot of people want of become officers or serve as the analyst, but not many really ever think about dispatch as a career. I would love to change that vision, and promote this job. This job is challenging, rewarding, exhilarating, and sometimes weighs heavily on you, but if you are passionate about serving the community and first responders and can take control and manage incidents, then this is the job for you. Working behind the scenes means you support the first responders and deal with all the investigative work before and during the dispatch. You provide crucial information that gets help to a dying loved one, comforts a child when they call 911, and you advise the responders of safety concerns or updates while they are enroute to calls. In this job you need to be 'all in,' but if you want to truly make that difference in others' lives, this is the path for you.
What does it mean to be recognized with a PSAP's Finest Award?
Liane: I think this is a huge accomplishment. Since the Bayside Communications Center consolidated I have worked very hard with my staff to align supervisors, create a Training Coordinator position, develop and implement call standards and quality control reviews, and push my team to want to excel. We will always have things we can do better, or changes we can make, but what's important is that we all share the passion to want to succeed and create the best dispatch center. This award is just the beginning for us, but it reminds me of how far we have come and what I want to accomplish in the center.
PSAPs' Finest Awards
Know someone you'd like to nominate for a PSAPs' Finest award? Nominations for the
2019 PSAPs' Finest Awards will open in January 2019. Individuals interested in submitting a nomination can nominate someone in any of these seven categories:
PSAP of the Year.
Since its inaugural year, the PSAPs' Finest Awards program has recognized more than fifty deserving individuals employed in the field of emergency communications. Winners are selected by an independent judging panel from the 911 community, which evaluates the nominees based on their professionalism, accomplishments, and service to their communities. Learn more by visiting the PSAPs' Finest Award program website here: http://finest.nice-files.com/.