Emergency Services telecommunicators achieve prestigious accreditation

The team at WCU’s Emergency Communications Center includes (front, from left) Meredith Searcy, Megan Nicholson, Krista Cortright, (back, from left) Steven Pinner, Shane Stovall, David Porter, Tom Hooks and Charles Davis.

Only one team of college- or university-based emergency telecommunicators in the world has achieved accreditation as an “Emergency Medical Dispatch Center of Excellence” from the International Academies of Emergency Dispatch, and that team works at Western Carolina University.

The six telecommunicators on the staff of WCU’s Department of Emergency Services who take calls at the campus Emergency Communications Center found out recently they are the 232nd group of telecommunicators on the planet to earn that distinction, but the first from a stand-alone higher education institution.

“It’s definitely an honor to be the first university to be accredited by the IAED,” said Shane Stovall, WCU’s director of emergency services. “It represents a lot of hard work and effort on the part of our telecommunicators. It took a team effort.

“This type of accreditation shows the concern for continuity and efficiency in medical dispatch that we take to heart. Every call, we treat it as it it’s one of our own asking for help,” Stovall said.

The WCU group earned its accreditation by demonstrating compliance with Advanced Medical Priority Dispatch System protocols and its associated “20 Points of Excellence,” which cover international practice standards for emergency medical dispatch that include system oversight, quality improvement programs and certification for all call-takers. WCU telecommunicators began training in July 2015 to be certified in emergency medical dispatch by the IAED. The process of gaining the actual accreditation began last August.

The telecommunications staff at WCU includes senior telecommunicators Megan Nicholson and Steven Pinner along with telecommunications center manager Tom Hooks and Meredith Searcy, Krista Cortright, David Porter and Charles Davis.

The Emergency Communications Center, located on the ground floor of H.F. Robinson Administration Building, has received nearly 500 calls for emergency medical assistance over the past year. The accreditation was based partly on the telecommunicators’ skills as revealed in 40 recorded conversations between them and callers requesting assistance, said Nicholson, who led the accreditation effort.

“To accomplish this accreditation, everybody has to be on board with the idea and on the same page, from the director on down to the telecommunicators, including the campus Police Department and Emergency Medical Services,” she said. “We’ve worked very hard to get to where we are today.”

Hooks said the qualities that make for a good emergency telecommunicator include a willingness to think outside the box, an inquisitive nature and “the ability to take control of a call, a skill you learn in training as well as on the job.”

“A lot of times, you’re talking to people at the worst moments of their lives,” he said.

Stovall said the staff of the WCU Emergency Communications Center will be featured in an upcoming issue of The Journal of Emergency Dispatch and on the IAED’s website.

Based in Salt Lake City, Utah, the IAED is a nonprofit organization that promotes safe and effective emergency dispatch services around the world. It supports first responder-related research, unified protocol application, legislation for emergency call center regulation and the strengthening of the emergency dispatch community through education, certification and accreditation.