The problem with shift change is that it’s our most vulnerable time in the Communications Center.   This is when we are most distracted from what has been happening all shift, and potentially drop the baton – ball for a variety of reasons.
The telecommunicator (TC) who is ending shift may be overtired, anxious about personal issues, needs to leave as soon as possible, excited to share news about personal life, planning a party, buying birthday gifts, or any other human issue that takes attention away from the operation.  Ending your shift is a highlight of your workday.  You are ready to go home.

The telecommunicator (TC) who is starting shift may be running late, putting food in the kitchen, making coffee, not being prepared with a headset, finding the right chair for the next eight, ten, or twelve hours, or even a favorite pen they like to use.   Many small things make setting up for the start of a shift, your shift, so important.

Being a member of this critical team is a great responsibility.   Make sure you are keeping the operational needs separate from your personal needs.   Focus on the operation; phones, radio talk groups, entries into state and national systems (such as NCIC), call logs, alarm companies, fire drills, sprinkler system testing, visitors in the lobby, meal pick up for jail, planned events and a whole list of other things happening in your community.  The worst feeling is when an event happens and you forgot, or worse were never aware of the event to begin with!  With any luck, these are not life-threatening situations, just poor customer service experiences.  When it happens to you, you never forget it.  Learn from it.

What are the issues and best strategies to combat the problem?   Well, here they are:

Room issues

Noise, loud from twice the staff talking and exchanging information, laughter among each other without realizing how loud you have gotten.  Poor acoustics that doesn’t absorb sound.  Console positions may be close together not allowing for space or distance between conversations.  Egress may be limited, only one way to get to the locker room or printer or file cabinets.  The larger the space the better, it limits the close interaction between TC’s at shift change. If the size of the room cannot be changed, look into acoustical solutions to help keep the noise down.

A number of dispatcher/call-taker positions:

If you have two positions, then there are four TC’s in the room changing shifts.  If you have five positions, then there are ten TC’s in the room changing shifts.   If you have twenty positions, then there are forty TC’s in the room, etc.  You can see the potential for noise and distractions no matter what size PSAP you have.  Stagger logging out and logging in to the CAD, phone, radio, recorder, LEADS/NCIC law enforcement records, and any other mission-critical systems that you need immediately.   This is extremely important.  Recognize that it could take several minutes for the oncoming TC to have all data ready at their fingertips.  If you normally have five TC’s working a shift and three or four are logged out, that is a recipe for disaster.   Be aware of the room and the shift change happening at each position.

Make a policy for the tools available to use:

  • CAD system has a running notes section for non-alarm related information (ie. radio log)
  • MDT system chat log or shift startup log
  • Radio system chat messaging
  • Phone system chat messaging
  • Group email
  • White Marker Board in a common area
  • Supervisor pass on a specific message face to face with all oncoming TC’s
  • Clipboard with handwritten notes at each position

Shift change is not a social hour, but many times this is when we get caught up in each other’s lives.  Expressing congratulations for the birth of a new baby, wedding, birthday, new home or puppy are all human interests.   Dispatchers are special, no doubt.  We care for each other and celebrate our co-worker’s success, worrying about our co-workers’ pain.   Establish an area outside of the communications center where TC’s can socialize before and after shift.  Some may use this, some may just want to go home.  But by recognizing the need, will bring the focused attention back to a successful shift change, every day, every time.  That is best for the operation.