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APCO Advocates for Appropriate Recognition of Public Safety Telecommunicators
By The Association of Public-Safety Officials (APCO) International
Published: 09/26/2016

Police dispatche Alexandria, VA – On Tuesday, September 20, 2016, the Association of Public-Safety Officials (APCO) International, the world’s largest association of public safety communications professionals, filed formal comments with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) advocating that Public Safety Telecommunicators – the professionals who answer 9-1-1 calls, dispatch emergency responders and perform many related tasks – be recognized for the critical work they do to protect and save the lives of the general public and first responders. Specifically, APCO challenged OMB’s failure to reclassify Public Safety Telecommunicators as Protective Service Occupations in the Standard Occupational Classification (SOC).

The SOC is a comprehensive list of jobs that is used by the federal government for statistical purposes. For too long, 9-1-1 professionals have been inappropriately represented in the SOC as “Police, Fire, and Ambulance Dispatchers” and classified as “Office and Administrative Support Occupations.” For anyone who understands 9-1-1 and emergency response, it’s obvious that Public Safety Telecommunicators perform protective work and should therefore be classified in the SOC category that includes lifeguards, crossing guards, TSA screeners, police officers, gambling surveillance officers, fish and game wardens, parking enforcement workers, private detectives, playground monitors, and others. The current classification among secretaries, office clerks, and taxicab dispatchers in the “Office and Administrative Support” category does not make sense.

When OMB initiated a revision of the SOC in 2014, APCO filed comments explaining that OMB should use the more representative term “Public Safety Telecommunicators” and classify them in the category for “Protective Service Occupations.” APCO’s recommendations were informed by the insight of more than 80 years as a leader in public safety communications, 26,000 members, and an elected leadership and senior staff who individually have decades of experience and dedication to 9-1-1 operations and policy. Furthermore, these recommendations were supported by other public comments in the record and a bipartisan, bicameral letter from leaders in 9-1-1 legislation and policy on Capitol Hill: the Co-Chairs of the Congressional NextGen 9-1-1 Caucus (Sen. Burr, Rep. Eshoo, Sen. Klobuchar, Rep. Shimkus).

Unfortunately, in July, OMB announced proposed revisions that rejected APCO’s recommendations. OMB’s limited explanation reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the protective and life-saving work performed by Public Safety Telecommunicators and revealed a process that applies ad hoc and arbitrary criteria to these professionals but not to others.

APCO immediately took action to leverage the full strength of its membership and every available resource to ensure Public Safety Telecommunicators receive the recognition they deserve, including:
  • Holding a webinar soon after OMB’s interim decision, and later a session at APCO’s annual conference on the reclassification process and how members can get involved;
  • Creating an online resource, which includes sample comments and a portal to facilitate submitting formal comments and contacting members of Congress;
  • Meeting with the federal office managing the SOC revision to better understand their reasoning, convey the importance of this issue and provide additional information to educate OMB;
  • Asking APCO members and their colleagues to submit comments to OMB explaining how they protect the public and first responders and to contact their elected officials to seek support;
  • Seeking support from leaders on Capitol Hill;
  • Conducting targeted outreach to APCO chapter leaders, agency managers and directors, Registered Public-Safety Leaders (RPLs), APCO Institute graduates, and other national-level organizations to provide information and get them involved; and
  • Requesting additional information from OMB on the basis for their interim decision.
The reclassification effort also got a boost from Congresswoman Norma Torres, a member of the NextGen 9-1-1 Caucus and former Public Safety Telecommunicator, who sent a letter to OMB describing the protective work performed by Public Safety Telecommunicators and urging reclassification.

In the comments filed today, APCO provided extensive explanation and examples describing the “protective” nature of the work performed by 9-1-1 professionals, building on information submitted by APCO members. APCO also challenged OMB’s pattern of applying ad hoc and arbitrary criteria to Public Safety Telecommunicators, noting that many of the factors used to justify maintaining the status quo are irrelevant to the SOC’s classification principles, and would in fact disqualify many existing and proposed occupations from the Protective Service category. Here are a few excerpts from APCO’s latest comments:
  • “Public Safety Telecommunicators provide lifesaving advice, information gathering and analysis that protects the public and first responders. The work they perform goes beyond merely receiving requests and dispatching resources. It’s life or death, and the current representation in the SOC does a disservice to them, as well as to the statistical purposes for which the SOC is designed.”
  • “[The federal committee] was wrong when it concluded that ‘Most dispatchers are precluded from administering actual care, ‘talking’ someone through procedures, or providing advice.’”
  • “[The federal committee’s reasoning] is inconsistent with the SOC classification principles and current makeup of the Protective Service Occupations [category] … and [they] should only be considering the nature of the work performed by Public Safety Telecommunicators and whether their lifesaving work is a protective service.”
  • “Reclassifying Public Safety Telecommunicators as Protective Service Occupations would correct an inappropriate representation in the SOC, recognize these professionals for the lifesaving work they perform and better align the SOC with related classification systems.”
APCO’s latest comments can be viewed in full here. According to the SOC website, federal officials will review public comments and announce final recommendations in Spring 2017.

“Public Safety Telecommunicators deserve appropriate recognition for the lifesaving work they perform and must be classified as Protective Service Occupations,” APCO Executive Director and CEO Derek Poarch said. “I want to thank APCO’s members and supporters for answering our call to action and joining the fight by filing comments providing thousands of real examples of how they protect and save lives. Reclassification has been a major grassroots effort by the skilled professionals in our community, and it will remain a priority for APCO until the federal officials get this right.”

APCO International is the world’s oldest and largest organization of public safety communications professionals and supports the largest U.S. membership base of any public safety association. It serves the needs of public safety communications practitioners worldwide - and the welfare of the general public as a whole – by providing complete expertise, professional development, technical assistance, advocacy and outreach.


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