Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Dispatcher Training Tips: testing progression in trainees

For those of you who, like myself, work for an agency without a dedicated dispatcher academy the question always comes up of tracking progress of trainees. How can you measure ability? What methods can you use to test ability in a dispatcher trainees?

There are many resources available to Public Safety Dispatchers to use for training. First is your co-workers. What do I mean by that?

Ask your fellow dispatchers to each write one question relating to the phase of training you are currently at. Gather all of the responses and create a quiz. For example: in the initial call-taking phase, one would want to know if the trainee is able to recall radio codes. A matching test to a radio code and the corresponding definition would be useful. Another example is a geography test. List addresses or locations and have the trainee look up the response districts. For smaller jurisdictions, have him/her document the major streets and the 'hundred' blocks. For example:

Name the major highways in our jurisdiction.
What response area is the address 4476 Smyth Street in?
Give the cross-streets in progression moving north-to-south for Grove Blvd. What are the hundred blocks at each cross-street?

I start my trainees out with memorizing names and call-signs of one region (we have 3). One of the tests I give includes a match-up of names to call-signs. Another quiz reviews basic Computer-Aided-Dispatch (CAD) commands. I mix up the code with the definition - having the trainee fill in blanks. You can cut & paste parts of procedures and have trainees fill in the missing parts. For example:

10-23                          _________________________________

___________             enroute to a call

traffic stop                  _________________________________

___________             officer needs help      

I add various components of the job to some quizzes and stick to specific topics for others. The general quizzes have a mix of questions. Important information is tested more than once. Take questions from policies - especially those that come up often.

Law enforcement dispatchers must learn how to read inquiry returns. Start with examples of clear (no wants/warrants/hits) and highlight the main sections. Next, take a return and ask questions related to the vehicle. For example:

On the attached return, what is the year of the vehicle?
On the attached return, is the registration current?
Who is the registered owner?

You can do the same for inquiries on subjects. Print out a driver;s license and ask the trainee to identify the key parts. For fire dispatchers, have the trainee learn the Incident Command System (ICS) system section by section. quiz on terminology which is very important when it comes to requesting mutual aid. What is a strike team verses a task force? If he/she was asked to request a helicopter for a wildfire, what is the correct name of the equipment? What about property, probation, or criminal history hits? Print out the returns for reference.

There are sources a trainer can tap in to to develop a better training program. Some are free and others may require membership. The Federal Emergency Management System offers free on-line learning for public safety personnel. There are courses dispatcher-specific. The Associated Public Safety Communications Officials International (APCO) includes a continuing education unit (CEU) article with test in every issue of their magazine. The Dispatch Monthly website has a large list of training resources and examples of manuals.

Knowing how your trainee is doing with skills and knowledge is critical to his/her success. By quizzing trainees on a regular basis, one can decide when it is time to move on to the next phase. In the case of a person under-performing, quizzes & tests can be a critical part of the performance evaluation process.

Good luck and stay safe out there!

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