Training, quality control and procedures at the Portland Bureau of Emergency Communication warrant improvement, according to an audit released Monday by City Auditor LaVonne Griffin-Valade.
"We found that operators do not receive sufficient ongoing training and professional development," said Auditor Griffin-Valade. "In addition, we found the bureau's expectation and application of Standard Operating Procedures may not match BOEC's needs."
While delving into new areas, the audit also followed up on recommendations in a 2002 City audit report. Auditors determined that BOEC has not fully implemented those recommendations - including an action plan to address hiring, training and staffing, and a recommendation to improve the quality of bureau communication.
Auditor Griffin-Valade makes several recommendations to improve ongoing training, implement a quality review process, work with partner agencies to clarify expectations, provide clear direction to operators to ensure that call handling practices meet partner agencies' expectations, and implement the three remaining recommendations from the 2002 audit.
Commissioner Steve Novick issued the following response to the audit:
Dear Auditor Griffin Valade:
Thank you very much for completing Audit Report #430, Emergency Communications: Training quality control and procedures warrant improvement. As the new Commissioner in Charge of the Bureau of Emergency Communications (BOEC), I am pleased to offer my comments in response to this report. My comments focus on the training, complaint tracking, and Procedures issues identified in the report.
On page 5, the audit identifies a need to train operators on new procedures. Unfortunately, the operative solutions to this problem involve allocating more financial resources to BOEC. When I was at the Oregon Health Authority working on Medicaid eligibility, we heard repeatedly that the eligibility workers did not have sufficient time for briefings about new policies and procedures. They were understaffed and under pressure to keep processing applications, and training time was squished. In an understaffed 24/7 emergency operation such as BOEC, we have an even more difficult situation: you simply cannot do what a normal employer would do and close up shop for a couple of hours at a time to do training. The phones have to be answered.
I plan to work with Director Turley to address these training concerns by:
(1) Making the case to Council during next year’s budget process that BOEC has to have enough staff to allow for training, and
(2) Help BOEC work with our partners within and outside the City to efficiently schedule the introduction of new procedures and the times in which operators are supposed to learn those procedures.
On page 7, you question whether the Bureau comprehensively tracks complaint trends. While the Bureau may well be able to improve its system, I do not believe it is accurate to say that the organization simply does not have overall tracking of complaint trends in order to evaluate systemic problems with call handling. Since the Mayor assigned the Bureau to me last month, I have received a weekly report about call handling complaints as well as how the Bureau handled those complaints. The Bureau analyzes all complaints to look for themes and assesses how best to address systemic issues. Of course, ongoing training time is needed to address systemic issues as they arise; as I already indicated, additional resources are needed to allow that training time.
On pages 8 and 9, the audit indicates that BOEC operators should have more opportunities to participate in developing new Procedures. I will be happy to do everything I can to ensure that communication between our partner agencies and BOEC is a twoway street and includes opportunities to ensure that BOEC operators have a chance to give feedback before we implement new procedures at the request of our partner agencies. Related to this is the question of how strictly operators must follow procedures (pages 9 and 10). I have recently heard from BOEC’s union representatives that although they were in the past gravely concerned that evaluations have penalized operators for not following a specific process even when they accomplish the appropriate outcome, operators are pleased with efforts Director Turley and her team have taken to address these concerns. Specifically, Director Turley has implemented a new values based evaluation that gives operators credit for getting to results rather than following a prescribed process.