By: Jim Shulkin
The Emergency Communications Center Landscape Has Changed
In my last post, “5 Ways COVID-19 is Reshaping Emergency Communications Centers,” I introduced a new Zetron white paper outlining some of the major operational shifts we’re seeing in the wake of a global pandemic that’s gone on longer and has had deeper and wider impacts than any of us could’ve ever imagined when it began.
While there have certainly been others, the white paper focuses on five specific changes, each having substantial short and long term logistical and operational impacts to the public safety professionals working in ECCs:
• More Enduring Remote Working Requirements
• Renewed Calls for Alternative Funding
• Increasing Demand for Partnerships
• Shifting Role Focus Towards Mission Intelligence
• Heightened Emphasis on Health and Safety
In this post, I’ll focus particularly on the need for easier and more enduring remote working capabilities, and touch briefly on how Zetron has responded to the new demand, extending the REACH of emergency call taking and dispatch.
The Need is Neither New or Fleeting
For many of those who are responsible for making sure every emergency call is handled and appropriate services are dispatched as needed, no matter what personal, public health, political or civic/social unrest may be occurring, the need to work at times from outside the main center is not necessarily a new development.
Many agencies regularly light up positions from back-up centers or even other public facilities on a temporary, emergency or ad hoc basis for a variety of reasons, such as when system/equipment upgrades are needed at the main center, facility transitions or moves occur, emergencies impact the main center’s availability or capabilities, and more.
So while the need to “go remote” isn’t new, the parameters of scale, scope, and terms for remote working requirements have inarguably been redefined in the wake of COVID-19. And given what we know now, there’s ample reason to believe that many of these new requirements will remain in place long after COVID-19 is eradicated.
New Reasons and Urgency
Over the past year we’ve talked to countless customers in ECCs, transportation, utilities, and other critical communications centers who’ve had to adapt to the “new normals” that are directly or indirectly contributing to team members needing to more prominently and/or permanently work from remote locations. And by remote, I mean way more “remote” and dispersed than simply being temporarily set up in a back-up center.
While they each seem fairly obvious on their own, collectively the factors prompting new work time and location flexibilities for communications centers have compounded the need.
A term previously used liberally only by those that are uber-protective of their personal space, may now very well be one of the most frequently uttered phrases on earth. Eliminating crowds in restaurants, ball parks, shopping centers, etc., happened quickly. But taking steps to similarly vacate emergency communications centers, where working spaces are often small and cramped with people pulling long shifts and in much closer proximity than six feet from their peers, obviously presented far different challenges.
Pick a reason. Not feeling well, exposed to someone not feeling well, traveled to someplace with lots of people not feeling well, or even a positive test in the household…directed- or self-quarantining is yet another new reality. Think people were sensitive about “stay home if you’re sick” policies in 2019? We hadn’t seen anything yet. But while a quarantine means temporarily not working in the center, it doesn’t mean someone isn’t capable of working for the center. In fact, most who aren’t actually sick are still more than able and need or want to work during quarantine. It simply can’t be while sitting next to their peers.
Oh yeah, what if a child needs to quarantine, or attend school remotely? Talk about new realities. Covering dependent care during shifts by way of sick days or paid child care isn’t always an option, especially for extended stints. But while parents or caregivers may need to be home “in proximity” to keep things on the rails, they’re often perfectly capable of marrying that typically intermittent responsibility with also having a productive work shift, as long as they have access to the means (i.e., connections, equipment, systems, etc.) to do so from home.
Absence/On Call Management
Perhaps the most obvious factor is that many people have gotten sick of course, leaving them temporarily unable to work from any location, even if they wanted to. This has taxed and stretched many teams to exhausting new limits for managing overtime, extra shifts, and ability to make personnel more “on call” ready. All of which have put additional strain on the conventional centralized workplace model.
New Sanitation Standards
Maintaining back-to-back shifts in shared workstations has been an established practice in ECCs, but new cleaning and disinfecting standards add time, costs and headaches in order to keep people safe. This is especially true in shared work environments and creates yet another motivation for seeking unconventional full and/or part time remote working scenarios.
Remote Work Within REACH of Emergency Call Taking and Dispatch
Ok, we get it, the need to enable remote work in ECCs, while not entirely new, has certainly reached new highs in terms of rationale and urgency. And it’s not likely to fade in parallel to the degree we all hope to see COVID-19 dissipate.
That’s why at Zetron, we were quick to identify the trends and subsequent need for critical communications centers (including ECCs) to adopt more malleable and enduring approaches to remote working during the pandemic.
Enter REACH Solutions
REACH is a bit unique to typical Zetron new solution introductions, simply because it’s not actually a “product” in our traditional sense. Rather, REACH is a technical solution that enables our existing Call Taking and Dispatch solutions to more easily be applied in remote working models. It’s intended to break down many of the legacy technical and logistical barriers and headaches to letting team members quickly and easily pack up and take home a workstation that’s fully operational and connected to the same systems being used for managing calls and dispatch in the center.
Subscribe today to receive periodic alerts on what’s new on the Zetron Z-Wire blog!