It’s common that agencies have overlapping jurisdictions and shared responsibilities, and at some point, public safety agencies will need to collaborate with neighboring agencies. Incidents run more smoothly when we see ourselves and our agency as part of a larger team. Collaboration requires respect, clear expectations, and boundaries on both sides. Yet, there’s a difference between trusting a neighboring agency to do their job versus trusting the individuals doing that job. Though challenging, fostering interagency relationships is vital for mission success.
With consolidated centers handling widespread agencies, the logistics of how to get people to interact can be daunting. Yet there are several effective ways to begin the process.
Informally, the goal is to connect as people. Offer an open door policy or special “open house” week to drop by on breaks or when not on shift to bring and share treats, or just chit chat. Announce: “We decided to grill! Stop by and hang out.” Or celebrate wins: “Jose is retiring and Sally was just cleared to return to duty! Come on by to congratulate them and have a piece of cake. Coffee’s always hot and fresh.” To build camaraderie, announce awards, honors, or grants you, partner agencies, and neighboring agencies have earned, and encourage your team to send congratulations. Gift exchanges, holiday parties, family events, and general announcements (“Happy Father’s Day”), or a thank you note to neighbor agencies, are all effective strategies.
Agencies with formal mutual aid agreements in place may find it useful to create internal resources that outline the organizational structure and chain of command, vocabulary, equipment available, etc, and identify shared goals of those partner agencies. Build understanding of differing perspectives of neighboring agencies, and foster an appreciation for agency interdependencies with interagency job shadowing (dispatch, ER, records) or ride-alongs (police, ambulance, fire, EMT/paramedics). Create a sense of a larger team with joint agency training, cross-functional interagency teams, or allowing individuals from other agencies to “piggyback” on your training to earn additional certifications. These strategies may require scheduled time. Schedule a demo with one of our public safety professionals to learn how Schedule Express, an automated scheduling solution, could benefit your agency.
While there are many benefits from having established interagency relationships, there are some other factors to consider. Not having traditional day to day contact with the personnel at other agencies will make it a bit more challenging for telecommunicators to quickly identify vocal cues from responders. Additionally there may be some communication roadblocks if one agency relies heavily on codes or signals, and another operates primarily in plain speak. Inter-agency events are often very serious and very stressful, maintaining professionalism will ultimately help control the flow of information and keep things moving forward efficiently.
When people feel comfortable working together and are aware of everyone's responsibilities, it is reflected in mission success. Collaborative problem-solving becomes second nature when there is effective communication between departments. Different voices allow for different perspectives, making it easier to discuss options and determine a solution. It also opens doors for new learning opportunities. When you communicate, you share knowledge and experience that will help others learn from you and vice versa. In addition, it fosters trust and enhances morale in the organization, eventually building a positive environment. This empowers the team and makes everyone more efficient in their work.
Remember, at the end of the day, we're all in this together.