Cost-Effective Communications: Getting the Most for Your Emergency Dispatch Dollars

Barry Furey reports that amid federal mandates on wideband service and demands for new technology such as next-generation 911, a conflict looms between rising demands and shrinking budgets.


Getting the Most for Your Emergency Dispatch Dollars There is an old saying that, "talk is cheap." However, just as communications makes up a measurable part of a community's fire service rating, so too does the cost of maintaining an adequate emergency communications system make up an...


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Getting the Most for Your Emergency Dispatch Dollars

There is an old saying that, "talk is cheap." However, just as communications makes up a measurable part of a community's fire service rating, so too does the cost of maintaining an adequate emergency communications system make up an increasingly greater part of many fire department budgets.

With trunked radios priced at over two grand apiece, federal mandates to replace older wideband units, and demands for new technology such as next-generation 911 on the horizon, a conflict looms between rising demands and shrinking budgets. So, how can the incident commander best develop strategies and tactics to manage this emergency? Let's begin the size-up.

As with any plan, a good place to start is by first identifying what not to do. Just as sticking a nozzle in the first opening showing fire can be considered a rookie mistake, it can also be a grave error to immediately attack your most visible cost - personnel. We all are cognizant of the negative impacts of reducing truck and engine staffing. Downsizing your dispatch center can have similar effects. Programs such as Emergency Medical Dispatch and Emergency Fire Dispatch (EMD and EFD) prolong the time that telecommunicators spend on the telephone with callers due to their interactive nature. Wireless calls require additional time to properly locate, and non-English-speaking callers require time-consuming translation services. Depending on your workflow, cutting people out of this process can increase your call-answering times, reduce the monitoring of critical fireground frequencies - or both.

There are also real-world differences between suppression and support forces. Communications personnel do not have a rapid intervention team standing by in case a call goes bad. They also don't have a second alarm to call if more help is needed to get the job done. While the current budget crunch may cause some communities to make extremely difficult decisions, reducing your telecommunicator staffing can materially affect both citizen and firefighter safety and should be considered only as a last resort.

Another item that is often a visible target is training, especially since it is frequently listed with travel in the budgetary hierarchy. The city fathers are frequently focused on this line item, and we often cooperate due to government-wide mandates to cut back and cut out, or accede to less-direct forms of pressure. The bottom line here is, do you want to put your life in the hands of untrained people? Every dollar spent on fire suppression that is not supported by a properly trained and equipped telecommunications staff doesn't buy you a dollar's worth of benefit.

For the safety of all concerned, minimum educational standards must be met. Try looking at alternative ways of getting training such as self-paced electronic self instruction. Use teleconferencing as a substitute for face-to-face meetings requiring travel. Subscribe to webinars that let unlimited users participate for a flat fee. But, also remember that specialized training is sometimes available only at a manufacturer's facility, and that conferences and trade shows often offer cost-effective means of learning through the diversity of sessions presented as well as the networking opportunities provided. The key phrase: do better, don't do away.

Now that we've spent some time looking at what not to do, it's time to focus on actions that will bring us positive results. Most of these fall under the single category of being a smarter shopper. Some of the same strategies and tactics used to manage our personal finances can be brought to play in controlling this crisis as well. A good place to begin is by reviewing all of your bills and making sure that you are only being charged for goods and services that you're being provided. I'm sure most of us look over our MasterCard and Visa statements for incorrect items before we sign the check. Municipal billing can also contain errors, and many of these can be for some high-ticket items.

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