“Policy/Procedures” are often overlooked or “put off” by communications professionals for vary from no time, no need, no wish to create more red tape, to “our agency is too small” and  “policy/procedures will stifle the staff’s judgment.” In reality, policy/procedures are one of the basic elements in the establishment and maintenance of effective communications operations.
Policy/procedures are essential to the organizational structure of any agency. If all interacting personnel are not aware of the organizational structure within a communications agency, effectiveness will suffer proportionately. Policy/procedures can provide this awareness. Further, by helping to ensure clear understanding of staff and management responsibilities, policy/procedures can reduce liability for the agency and its personnel and, ultimately, assist management in treating all entities fairly. Professionalism will then improve, along with agency consistency and credibility. In the long term, the establishment and maintenance of policy/procedures will assist in agency planning and identification of training needs.
For some communication centers, the establishment and maintenance of policy/procedures is a “dog chasing its tail” experience.  The agency’s management spends a large part of its time handling situations which policy/procedures could have handled. But because agency managers are so busy handling situations that could have been prevented through proper policy/procedure development, they do not have time to work on the specific policy/procedure to solve the problem.  The result of the “dog chasing its tail” syndrome can be low staff morale and ineffective communications services. Therefore, time must be allocated for the development of departmental policy/procedures.
For policy/procedures to be fully effective, several key areas need to be addressed. First, the agency’s administration must be fully involved and supportive because otherwise the effort will not be successful. Second, an assessment of needs
should be completed. A policy/procedure development team should then be designated with the functions of the team specified. The development team must include the agency’s administrative and line staff personnel, along with end user representation. The team then drafts the potential policy/procedures, utilizing the team members experience and any available resources (such as other agencies, written reference material, etc.).
After the policy/procedures are drafted, the agency’s legal counsel should review and approve the drafts. This review reduces the liability for all personnel affected by the policy/procedures. The next step is to disseminate the policy/procedures, along with interpretation information, to all impacted personnel. This dissemination must include administration. It is not unusual for affected personnel to not be aware of a policy/procedure simply because they were not actively involved in the development of the original policy/procedure, or dissemination with explanation never occurred.
The final important element in the policy/procedure establishment and maintenance is a quality assurance process. This involves the development of a process for revision of the policy /procedures as the need occurs. The policy/procedures must be an evolving, living document that is modified as conditions change. If the policy/procedures are allowed to become outdated, the agency’s credibility levels will plummet. A revision documentation sheet should be maintained with the policy/procedure manual as a permanent record.
Policy/procedure development and maintenance is essential to the effective management of any communications center.  Agency managers should look at the policy/procedures as a tool to make their jobs easier and allow their personnel to be more effective. The benefits outweigh any time and labor spent in the development process.

–David H. Sleeter is Communications Director of the Rock County Communications Center in Janesville, WI.  He is WI-NENA’s Emergency Number Professional (ENP) and the Director of CALEA Certified, Consolidated, Communications Center.


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