Friday, March 25, 2011

Kudos Arkansas!!!!!!

Home Legislation Makes Telecommunicator Training Available in Arkansas
Natasha Yetman on March 24, 2011

Arkansas State Capitol in Little Rock

“9-1-1 dispatchers are the first link from citizens to authorities to report emergencies,” says Gary “Bud” Gray, RPL, deputy coordinator and operations manager for the city of North Little Rock’s Emergency Services, in a release from the APCO Arkansas Chapter. “We simply want to have training available for the dispatchers so when an event is reported, the dispatcher has the knowledge to properly handle the incident.”

On Wednesday, March 23, Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe signed a bill into law that makes minimum training available for public safety telecommunicators across the state. The bill, HB 1741 — now Act 640 — which was filed on Feb. 28, passed through the state House and Senate with no opposition.

The training will be facilitated by the Arkansas Law Enforcement Training Academy (ALETA) and will not be mandatory. Although the curriculum has yet to be established, it will be based on APCO International’s Minimum Training Standards for Telecommunicators and Project 33 (P33) standards. According to Gray, the course will have a train-the-trainer structure, allowing individuals who complete the course to take their knowledge back to their PSAP to share it with their colleagues.

Key players in getting the bill introduced and lobbying for the bill include Gray; Shannon McCuin, RPL, dispatch manager for the Washington County Sheriff’s Office; and Tammie Shipp, 9-1-1 administrator for Conway County 9-1-1. Supporters of the legislation include the Association of Arkansas Counties, the Municipal League, Fire Chief’s Association and the Sheriff’s Association.

The Process & Compromise

This bill became state law in six weeks, but the process really began two years ago as part of a course project. According to APCO Arkansas President Matt Garrity, “Bud and Shannon had [this legislation] as a project for their RPL class. Now they can officially graduate — even though they graduated last year. It’s a credit to them because they are the ones that made this happen.”

The work McCuin and Gray did in their RPL class (the APCO Institute’s Leadership Certificate Program — Registered Public-Safety Leader) served as the foundation for the final legislation.

Their resolve was reinforced and felt throughout the Arkansas public safety communications community in spring 2010. At the 2010 Arkansas state conference, Nate and Mark Lee from the Denise Amber Lee Foundation, which lobbied for the legislation passed in Florida last year, were keynote speakers at the banquet. “There wasn’t a dry eye in the house,” says Garrity. “That’s what really got us fired up about this. Bud talked to them, and they are proud that we got something done.”

“When we started working on this in the fall, we found that everyone agreed that we needed some kind of effective training,” says McCuin. “We found universal support from everybody in the 9-1-1 community. There were only a couple of questions: what level of training and who would pay for it.”

Working with the Association of Arkansas Counties, county judges and representatives from police, sheriff, fire and EMS, the bill’s first draft was being fine-tuned by late 2010. The Denise Amber Lee Foundation also provided the group with advice throughout the process. In January 2011, an ad hoc committee of stakeholders was formed to resolve final issues.

To fund the training, a percentage of the 9-1-1 fees currently collected from wireless phone bills was reallocated to ALETA. But ALETA receives its funding through different channels than the 9-1-1 fee is collected, which meant a separate Senate appropriations bill to be filed to place this money in a special fund for ALETA was necessary.

Although the 9-1-1 officials working on the bill initially wanted mandatory training, it was made clear that a mandate would kill the bill and its support. “We did have to make compromises,” says McCuin. “With the committee, we were able to discuss issues they had and we had. We actually came out with a very good bill that meets everyone’s needs.”

McCuin continues, “They weren’t concerned about the funding as much as what type of training, something that would not be tailored to their needs. They had read Project 33 standards. [The training structure is] what your agency does. We decided to do some tiers to accommodate rural dispatch centers. That way, the training would reflect on what your agency did, not just a catchall for everybody. P33 does that as well.”

Garrity says, “We would have liked to have for it to be mandatory. But when you look back at ALETA, their training was available and recommended when they first started and now it’s mandatory. We are hoping to take that step later — as we get the curriculum in and people start seeing the value of this training. This is just minimum training and should help the smaller PSAPs [that] don’t get anything”

After the bill was filed on Feb. 28, Gray, McCuin and Shipp spent six weeks in Little Rock, meeting with state senators and representatives and gaining support for the legislation.

Next Steps

The work is not over yet. According to McCuin, the ad hoc committee will convene to determine the details of the curriculum. They intend to forward the training to APCO International, to ensure it complies with Project 33 standards. It will then go to the Arkansas Commission on Law Enforcement Standards and Training, which will credential the final training, to approve and certify the curriculum. ALETA will hire someone to teach the course and will provide regional training sites across Arkansas.

McCuin is determined not to lose her momentum. “In two years, when the legislative session convenes again, we might be able to go to them and say, ‘We’ve spent two years perfecting this program. Here’s where we want to go next.’ We need to have goals in mind.”

“I have been getting e-mails from dispatchers and people I don’t know to say ‘thank you,’” says McCuin. “It’s kind of humbling. We did this for the citizens of the state. Our goal is to be proactive instead of reactive, like they were in Florida. That is another important piece of this — even though we were behind, we were trying to be proactive before something bad happens.”


About the Author
Natasha Yetman is associate editor of APCO International’s Public Safety Communications magazine. Contact her via e-mail at