What Telecommunicators and Emergency Communications Centers Need to Know.

The following is a guide to public safety communications center on the management of the Coronavirus outbreak. While not intended to be all encompassing, it does contain links to authoritative sources of information that will be helpful to most.

The Coronavirus (COVID – 19) is a relatively recent disease, that is still in its infancy. As such, new information is being constantly developed. Stay alert to any changes that might affect your jurisdiction. 

Check with your medical director and health authorities regarding possible modification to your EMD questions or general call-taking screening. The CDC (Center for Disease Control) released these PSAP guidelines on February 15th.

Review and understand HIPAA regulations. Public and private ECCs may be viewed differently, but there are mitigating circumstances to distributing information in each case. Here is an excellent place to start. This is also great information.

In addition to reviewing emergency call handling routines, prepare to receive any number of public queries, especially as the disease spreads. Anyone who remembers the Anthrax scare of the early 2000s can appreciate the variety of concerns expressed by citizens. These will range from medical advice, where to buy supplies, price gouging, and reports of suspected virus carriers. Establish a protocol  (downloadable pdf) for such calls in conjunction with local authorities. Dedicated hotlines and web sites can help shift the load off of 9-1-1. Finally, don't forget to address social media. It is critical in controlling rumors and when neighborhood directed communications are required.

Work with the local media to help lessen the impact as well. Review when to and when not to call the emergency number, and publish alternate sources of information.

Protect your workplace against the virus. While this CDC directive is aimed at general employers, it does contain some useful information. 

Directors and managers should review their COO plans to address pandemics. While I am not suggesting that this will occur, my 50 years in this business had made it clear to me that we focus more on redundant equipment, and less about what would happen if we suddenly lost half our staff to illness. Here’s a short read.

CLEAN! CLEAN!! CLEAN!!! Shared work surfaces are a prime means of transferring germs. Keyboards, chairs, consoles, and break areas all require attention. Your immediate work area should be wiped down at shift change and at any time you change operators – even for a break. The ECC is a congested environment. Do your part in keeping it as clean as possible.

Take care of yourself. The bottom line is that a virus is a virus, and they are around us every day. Wash your hands thoroughly. Keep your hands off your face. Eat properly, hydrate, and get rest. I know that can be tough in this job, but maintaining a healthy lifestyle goes a long way.

If you’re sick – stay home! Nobody wants to leave their crew short, but consider this. If you stay home when you’re contagious, you’re the only one missing. If you come in and infect the entire crew, then what? Don’t try to be a hero. The CDC believes the Coronavirus is more likely spread from person-to-person, between those in close contact with each other. Close contact? Does that sound like where you work?