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9-1-1 Emergency: Are Operators Ready for Your Call?

9-1-1 Emergency: Are Operators Ready for Your Call?

NBC’s Today show recently aired the attached story, 9-1-1 Emergency: Are Operators Ready for Your Call? 

This feature focused on the tragic story of a mother’s call for help when she found her young son strangling in their backyard soccer net.   Ultimately her son died.  She felt he could have been saved had the 9-1-1 call taker been able to provide her with CPR instructions.   It also featured NBC’s three-month investigation of the 9-1-1 system across the nation, raising concerns regarding the quality of service especially with regard to medical emergencies.

The story could lead the public to question their trust in the system. Questions like: “What would happen if I had an emergency?” “Will my call taker have enough training to help me provide CPR to my loved one?” “Are there appropriate hiring and training standards in Multnomah County and Oregon to fill these very important positions?”

The City of Portland’s Bureau of Emergency Communications (BOEC), who provides 9-1-1 services to Portland, Gresham, Fairview, Troutdale, Maywood Park, and Multnomah County, feels it is important to respond to this story to assure our community, both citizens and visitors that they are in very good hands.

BOEC Telecommunicators:

There are 123 certified call takers, dispatchers, and front line supervisors at BOEC who answer your 9-1-1 calls. With an average of 11 years experience, they are career professionals who are highly skilled and ready to handle your requests for police, fire or medical assistance.

Emergency Medical Services Program and Triage Guide:

Whenever handling a medical situation, no matter how minor or grave, BOEC call takers are trained to provide you medical pre-arrival instructions, including step-by-step first aid and/or CPR instructions. 

The Multnomah County Emergency Medical Services Program (MCEMS) provides medical oversight and overall coordination of the Multnomah County EMS system. MCEMS, a program of the Multnomah County Health Department, is recognized by the Oregon Health Division as the EMS medical control authority for the County.

The medical triage guide, training and instruction for 9-1-1 Call Takers and Emergency Medical Dispatchers (EMD) have been developed in coordination with MCEMS.  All BOEC patient treatment protocols, known as the MCEMS Triage Guide, have been approved by the physician advisor.

The MCEMS system is designed to provide pre-arrival instructions for the patient while an ambulance and the fire department responders are en route to the scene. Call takers prompt callers to provide immediate and appropriate steps to help the patient. Industry wide, the EMD system has proven to help save lives. 

BOEC Hiring Standards:

The recruitment and selection process to become a BOEC call taker is extensive and takes at least six months to complete.  All successful candidates must pass industry-specific multi-tasking tests, oral interviews, an extensive background check of work history and character, as well as a psychological assessment to ensure the candidate is fit for the work.

State of Oregon Standardized Training & Certification Requirements:

Training requirements are established by the State of Oregon's Department of Public Safety Standards and Training (DPSST). Oregon is a leader in this industry being the first State in the nation to require standards for 9-1-1 Telecommunicators and Emergency Medical Dispatchers.

BOEC Training Program:

New BOEC trainees must complete a nine-month training program which includes first aid and CPR. In addition, BOEC utilizes best practices identified by the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials International (APCO).  These best practices ensure that all trainees work with a certified coach who oversees every call that is received and processed by a trainee. Training also includes daily observation reports, bi-monthly reviews by supervisors and simulation training.  The training program is rigorous as only the top performers are ultimately certified to work independently. 

State and BOEC On-going Education:

DPSST requires that Certified Telecommunicators/Emergency Medical Dispatchers receive continual ongoing training.  This includes at least 12 hours of Telecommunicator and 4 hours of Emergency Medical Dispatcher continuing education each year to maintain certifications. Coaches participate in specific training beyond the State requirements. 

BOEC provides both required and self-study Continuing Education Modules for employees.  Additionally, supervisors meet with each employee monthly to review, at  a minimum, one Standard Operating Procedure as a refresher and to ensure understanding of new or modified rules. 

Supervision and Quality Assurance:

The integrity of operations is ensured through direct supervision of employees and continual monitoring of daily activities by supervisors and lead workers.   

BOEC’s Quality Assurance Program includes supervisors conducting monthly call reviews and annual reviews, for each employee, in addition to monitoring daily activity.

BOEC’s Management Team, with the assistance of a variety of topic-specific committees, continually works to ensure we are leaders in the industry employing the best technology and best practices.

9-1-1 Funding – The Oregon Telephone Tax:

The 75 cent tax that is collected on your phone bill each month pays for a variety of services related to 9-1-1.  In addition to paying for all of the 9-1-1 telephone-answering equipment throughout Oregon, this tax fully funds the Telecommunicator training at DPSST.

In early 2009, due to State revenue constraints, 8.1 million of the 9-1-1 tax and interest dollars were transferred to the State's General Fund.

National Legislative E9-1-1 Caucus:

No Oregon legislators have joined this caucus.

We are extremely proud of the work that BOEC employees perform 7 days a week, 24-hours a day, by providing the vital link between the caller and public safety responders.