Below are answers to some common questions from RETAINS Toolkit 3.0 subscribers.
How do I get access to APCO Project RETAINS?
The APCO Project RETAINS study is available free to full members. These documents can be downloaded from the APCO shopping cart. Log into your member profile to see the documents.
A subscription is required to access the APCO Project RETAINS Toolkit 3.0. You will be able to use the tool to estimate appropriate staffing levels and generate a customized report, use the retention tool to examine turnover/retention and administer the employee satisfaction survey. In addition, the Effective Practices Guide, Staffing and Retention in Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs): A Supplemental Study, RETAINS NG and RETAINS Compiled Reports can be downloaded. Subscriptions can be purchased online. If you are a member, please make sure you’re logged in to your account to see member pricing.
Will information and data from my RETAINS 2.0 be automatically transferred to my new RETAINS 3.0 subscription?
No. Because each of the versions operate on separate platforms, information and data will not be transferred from 2.0 to 3.0.
Does the system save my data from one visit to the next?
Yes. Your data is saved and stored from one visit to the next as long as you have asked the system to save it. Your data and customized Toolkit information will be there for you as long as you maintain your yearly subscription with the APCO Project RETAINS Toolkit. Data in the staffing tool remains in place until you change it or clear a field. To be on the safe side, however, it is a good idea to print the screens as you complete them or copy and paste the information into a file that can be saved on your computer. The internal pages are now printer friendly to help your hard copy archive your pages. The data used to generate the PDF report for the Employee Satisfaction Survey is deleted when you set up a new survey, but you can save previous reports as PDF files on your computer. The years for the retention section are changed automatically on January 1, so you will always have the five most recent years of data. The last year will drop and the data will not be saved.
Where is the Effective Practices Guide (EPG)?
The EPG can be found under the Resources tab of the online Toolkit. It is a 119-page document that should be read BEFORE beginning use of the Toolkit. The staffing workbook is the second part of the EPG or can be downloaded separately.
Is it possible for two people to log on and work with the tools at the same time?
When purchasing your subscription for the Toolkit, please remember that only one profile per agency will be permitted. Each agency must designate their Toolkit user. The current version of the Toolkit allows only one user login to be registered per email address. A manager can log in at more than one station at the same time or share the email address and password with employees who are working with different tools or different forms. More than one person per center can register and use the tools, but if you want to control access to the reports (staffing analyses, employee satisfaction results, retention report), you will need to make sure that nobody has your password. Multiple people can log in under the same profile, as long as you are not both working on the same form at the same time.
How long does our agency data stay in the Toolkit?
As long as you maintain your yearly subscription with the APCO Project RETAINS Toolkit or until you clear the worksheets of old data. It is best to save the reports to your own computer. The retention report, dispatcher guidelines, summary and report can be generated and saved. Each subscription is limited to one (1) report per subscription year.
How many reports can I generate with my subscription?
Each subscriber may generate ONE (1) pdf during the subscription year.
What if our agency does not separate the call taker and dispatch functions?
How do I decide which positions are volume-influenced vs. coverage vs. function positions?
It is important to distinguish between people and positions. The position is the job, assignment or task. The call taking task is the same for an employee that is cross-trained, brand new, or at the third level on the salary scale. Start with the easiest positions to classify. See the Glossary or the Staffing Workbook for additional examples.
- Function positions: The number of positions available does not depend on the level of activity or the time of day. The positions of Manager or Training Coordinator are typically function positions. Most call centers have just one manager or director (the title varies, so customize the tool accordingly). The manager is there when the manager is there; authority may be delegated but there is still only one manager serving that function for the center.
- Coverage positions: The position must be “covered” regardless of the number of incoming calls or dispatch activity. The coverage may refer to a particular task or a specific console that must be covered for a given length of time, usually continuous service 24/7/365. A center that can handle the workload with minimal staffing on all shifts should use a coverage calculation to estimate staffing needs. If a center staffs a fire or police dispatch console around the clock regardless of the amount of call activity, it is a “coverage” position. Specific dispatch positions such as fire, police or emergency medical dispatch and shift supervisor are typical coverage positions. If your center increases staffing during high volume shifts, but consistently “covers” the same period of time each day, treat it as a fraction of a coverage position. For example, if you have three dispatcher positions that are filled 24 hours a day and an additional 12-hour shift each day to cover the busy periods, there are 3.5 positions that need to be covered.
- Volume-influenced positions: The number of employees that fill these positions is dependent on the overall activity level in the center, and the number of individuals scheduled to handle the workload on any given shift is determined by the workload. Analysis of historic call volume data and/or experience with daily and weekly patterns of call activity are used to determine staffing needs and inform scheduling decisions. The combined call taker/dispatcher position is a volume influenced positions if staffing levels need to be increased to handle increased phone activity during the afternoon or evening shift, or if the number of call taker/dispatchers needs to be increased to handle consistent and predictable increases (e.g. weekends). Situations where staffing needs to be increased to handle a special event such as a game or the 4th of July are typically handled with overtime and might be considered “volume-influenced scheduling” but not volume influenced staffing.
How do I determine a text to 9-1-1 session?
A text to 9-1-1 session encompasses all communication from the initiation of a text to 9-1-1 incident to the end of the communication.
How do I determine the call volume? What qualifies as a “call?”
The answer to this question depends on the page you are using. The Total Call Volume (TCV) for the center may be different than the total call volume for a specific position. In determining staffing for volume-influenced positions, the call volume should reflect all call activity handled by the position being analyzed. For example, if you are estimating staffing for a call taker position, and the call taker answers and directs incoming calls, use the total number of incoming calls. If the call taker is also responsible for handling lateral/transfer calls, call backs or outgoing calls to service providers, those calls should be included in the total count. All calls should be counted, even those that are for the same incident (e.g., If an incoming call is about a traffic accident that has already been forwarded to dispatch, that call should be counted even though it may not be entered in the CAD system). In centers where a call taker/dispatcher handles incoming calls and dispatch, consider adding the number of dispatch events to the total telephone call volume as a means of including radio activity. Call volume is a count of the number of telephone calls or dispatches, it is not a measure of the amount of time involved (note that we suggest using the number of times a field unit is dispatched, not the number of times a dispatcher uses the push-to-talk button). In centers that handle the call taking and dispatch assignments separately, dispatch assignments are not typically “volume-influenced” positions. They are more likely to be “coverage” positions.
Can I calculate staffing needs for partial positions that just cover part of the day or part of the year?
Yes, the calculation for coverage positions allows you to make an adjustment for partial positions. A part time employee can be accounted for as .5. Two part time employees can equal one Full Time Employee (FTE) or you can split up a position in percentages. For an explanation and examples, refer to the Staffing Workbook.
How do I adjust the calculation for volume-influenced positions if incoming calls are simply routed to whoever is available to handle the call?
Some centers have a strict division of labor and incoming calls are only handled by designated agents. In most call centers, however, call responsibilities are widely shared, and calls are routed to any available agent. Set up the staffing estimator based on the division of labor in your center. If the distinction from one position to another is frequently blurred, it makes sense to treat all call takers as a single position. It ultimately depends upon the dynamic of the center and if the information can be justified. For more details and examples, refer to the Staffing Workbook.
Is there a standard for the number of dispatchers to the number of units/channels?
No, there is no specific standard, equation or formula to estimate the most appropriate ratio of dispatcher to unit, dispatcher to number of channels or number of units per channel. The RETAINS 2018 study addresses several factors affecting dispatcher ability to serve units assigned to a dispatch position. When trying to discern the differences in workloads by center size, agency type, even time frame of individual dispatch shifts, it is important to closely review the non-radio responsibilities of individual positions.
My employees are having trouble submitting their survey responses. Is there something special they need to do?
Employees must access the survey on the internet. The URL for employees to access the survey is printed on the employee notification. Each notification has a unique access code to take the survey anonymously.
It is the last day of data collection and employees are using their unique access key and the proper URL, but the page says access denied. What’s wrong?
It may be that they waited until the last minute. Employees will not be able to submit a response after the close of the data collection period. Data collection is set to end at midnight Eastern Time on the day you selected as an end date. You can extend data collection up to two weeks to accommodate late responders.