Communications Standards: The Who, What and Why

The fire service is no stranger to standards, and many of the more commonly known entities such as the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and the Insurance Services Organization (ISO) have standards that also apply directly to emergency...


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The fire service is no stranger to standards, and many of the more commonly known entities such as the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and the Insurance Services Organization (ISO) have standards that also apply directly to emergency communications. However, there is an alphabet soup of additional agencies that promulgate regulations having a direct impact on this specific aspect of operations. This column details who these agencies are, what these standards cover and why fire departments both large and small should be concerned about meeting them.

Perhaps the best way to review these is by alphabetical order. We’ll start with the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and the Association of Public-safety Communications Officials International (APCO). Our focus here will be on those documents that bear the seal of both. Among these is the Automated Secure Alarm Protocol (ASAP) by which alarm companies can directly communicate with computer-aided dispatch (CAD) systems. This eliminates the need for a call between the central station and the 9-1-1 center, and provides for pre-verification of the address. The latter is extremely critical as it eliminates precious time wasted struggling with partial or incorrect addresses.

 

Personnel qualifications

Also of interest are ANSI and APCO standards that deal with personnel. These include Core Competencies and Minimum Training Standards for Public Safety Communications Training Coordinator, Core Competencies and Minimum Training Standards for Public Safety Communications Supervisor, Core Competencies for Public Safety Communications Manager/Director and Minimum Training Standards for Public Safety Telecommunicators.

Documents also cover: Public Safety Communications Common Incident Types for Data Exchange; Wireless 9-1-1 Deployment and Management Effective Practices Guide; Standard Channel Nomenclature for the Public Safety Interoperability Channels; Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) Service Capability Criteria Rating Scale; and Standard for Public Safety Telecommunicators When Responding to Calls of Missing, Abducted and Sexually Exploited Children. Although the latter may be more applicable for PSAPs that service law enforcement, it is mentioned here since it is worthwhile training. It cannot be assumed that such reports would never reach a fire-only dispatch center.

Next on the list comes the Commission of Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA). While it may sound strange to be including what would appear to be a police-oriented body, CALEA offers an accreditation process for communications centers. Interestingly, the Shreveport, LA, Fire Communications Center opted for this route. According to Willis Carter, then deputy chief of the department and chief of communications, “Successfully achieving our first CALEA accreditation Award in 2003 was, without a doubt, one of my agency’s proudest accomplishments. Meeting the very demanding professional standards’ compliance requirements affirms the agency’s commitment to top-quality public safety services.”

 

Mandated standards

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) by name alone would be an obvious choice for inclusion in our review of regulatory agencies. The FCC is of particular importance in that – unlike others discussed here – its applicable standards are not voluntary. A wide range of subjects covered impact the fire service, including type-accepted equipment, licensing requirements and 9-1-1. Failure to comply in some cases can lead to fines, loss of frequencies or other penalties.

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