Friday, September 28, 2012

Time matters, sometimes

Response time has been a topic of discussion among the police chief, fire chief, and emergency communications coordinator of late. Jim, John, Julie, and I have been working on our measurement of response time, and a variety of strategies to ensure that we are delivering good services by expediting responses when this is appropriate. Our primary focus has been to establish reasonable goals, and eliminate unnecessary delays.

In public safety services, time is of the essence--some of the time.  When a crime is in progress, time matters.  When a life-threatening medical emergency is occurring, time matters.  But for much of what we do, time matters much less.  For example, a good deal of crime is belated: it happened over a span of hours or days, although it was just recently discovered.  It would make no sense to drive Code 3 to the scene of a bicycle theft, when the lock had been cut sometime between last night and this morning.  Similarly, it would be foolish to send an emergent response to a medical call in which the outcome for the patient is unlikely to be affected by the additional 60 seconds required for a non-emergent response. The risk created by the code response exceeds any benefit it produces.

This is not to say that time is irrelevant in non-emergencies.  Renewing my license plates is not an emergency.  Delivering the appetizer to my table at the restaurant is not an emergency.  But I am a happy customer when the renewal can be handled expeditiously, and the appetizer arrives in advance of the entree. Quick service is nice, but not at the expense of a typo on my title or a cold center in my egg roll.

I am willing to tolerate a little wait if I have a general idea what to expect.  If I'm tapping my fingers, expecting a police officer in ten minutes to take a report of the hit & run damage I discovered in the parking lot, I'm a bit perturbed after 40 minutes. On the other hand, if I had been told it would be within the next hour, I'd probably be fine with that.  It's sort of like waiting for the cable guy: give me a date and a reasonable time range, and I can plan around that.

Emphasizing response time, without considering the type and circumstances of the incident can unwittingly lead to bad practices: encouraging unsafe driving, cutting corners on other important duties, failing to prioritize limited resources, and so forth.  The key is to determine the time-sensitive incidents, and establish a reasonable measure of a suitable response time based on the realistic conditions of complexity, distance, and traffic.

The simple fact of the matter is this: even in public safety operations, most of what we do is non-emergent, and time is not of the essence.  A routine response without unnecessary delay will  be satisfactory to our customers, especially if they have an idea what to expect, and will not negatively impact the outcome.


Steve said...

Based on some of my own experiences, I think people would be well-served if they were given some time window in which to expect resonders to arrive. As you said, if you have some expectation, you're more likely satisfied with the response time than if you have no idea how long you're going to be waiting. Perhaps this isn't feasible, but it would probably cut down on complaints of slow response.

Anonymous said...

The recent all sergeants training for LPD emphasized that the departments not put restrictions on officers to have fast response times so as not to promote unsafe driving habits to meet a requirement. Assistant Chief Brian Jackson imposed a 10 minute response requirement soon after he was promoted. This requirement created the fear in officers that caused them to bust traffic lights, speed and drive unsafely in order not to get questioned about why it took longer than 10 minutes to get to a non emergency call. Officers are still getting questioned on a regular basis if it took them longer than 10 minutes to get there. This is completely contradictory to what Below 100 promotes in their training to sergeants.
While I realize, it is important to respond to all calls in a timely manner, I also don't see the purpose in pressuring officers to make a 10 minute time frame when it is often impossible due to time of day, the area of town and where they are responding from. Perhaps this "policy" implemented by the Asst. Chief should be revisited. Especially during this time where the administration is obsessed with seat belt usage. Perhaps they should also be as concerned with safe driving in general.

Anonymous said...

People think that anytime they have to call for an Officer, it IS an emergency, no matter what the reason may be. I think the 'time window' would be a good idea, especially during peak times when they have to wait more than 20 minutes. Like Steve said, it might cut down on complaints and crabby people that think the Officers aren't in any hurry to respond. Just a thought!

RINGO said...

Strive to under promise and over deliver.
Gen. David Patreaus