In conversation with Karen Sandland: Support Champion of the Year at the Control Room Awards

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The work performed by staff in our emergency call centres, dispatch rooms and command centres is critical, in 2021 35 million calls were made to the emergency services. International Control Room Week is celebrated from 23-29th October, and it allows us to celebrate and commemorate the service of this dedicated group of individuals who work tirelessly behind the scenes to keep our communities safe, connected, and informed.

"We have a long heritage of over 25 years delivering control room solutions to the emergency services. Working so closely in this environment, we see so many inspirational people working in challenging circumstances. We are delighted to have sponsored the Control Room Awards once again this year where we all took the opportunity to recognise and honour those who make a difference to people’s lives and who make such a valuable contribution to the safety of our communities” Paul Bergin, Head of Public Safety Group at Sopra Steria.

To celebrate International Control Room Week, we will delve deeper into the stories and experiences of these unsung heroes. We will hear firsthand accounts from control room operators, explore the technology that supports their work, and highlight the challenges they face.

Karen Sandland started with the Kent Police four years ago in the Investigation Management Unit before moving to a development and support role. She won the Support Champion of the Year award at this year’s Control Room Awards.

The judges said: “Karen truly demonstrates the values of a Control Room Ambassador and does so much to raise the profile of the control room. She goes above and beyond in supporting colleagues and the community, all while dealing with significant personal health issues. The breadth of evidence in her nomination is truly humbling.”

Could you tell us a bit about your role in the control room and how long you’ve been doing the role?

I started in the control room as part of the Investigation Management Unit (recording crime) a little over 4 years ago but having come from a teaching support background, my heart lay in training. So, when a position became available as a ‘Development Support Officer’ (DSO) in our Control Room’s Learning and Development team I had to apply! For the last 2.5 years I have been assisting with the delivery of training to new staff within the control room, supporting existing members of staff when there is a knowledge gap by providing ad-hoc training, planning/building and delivering Continued Professional Development for 2 hours a week and I create a monthly briefing document that is sent out to staff on changes to working practices and includes any recognition of good work I have become aware of.

What skills/attributes do you find most crucial in a control room environment, and how has it contributed to your success?

To understand that my attitude/behaviour can affect another’s attitude/behaviour, is crucial. There have been many occasions where I’ve managed to calm a situation down by simply staying calm myself. Eventually the other person will mirror my behaviour and we can then talk the situation through and find a solution.

What motivates you in your role?

I just want to make things better for everyone. That might sound daft but if I can see a working practice that is adding unnecessary bureaucracy and making my colleagues work life more difficult, I will do research to understand the process and try to find a way to make life easier as I know that will have a knock-on impact to how we serve the public. If people are happy in their jobs, they will work a little harder and go a little further to provide that first-class service which we strive for. Having been a victim of Domestic Abuse, and not realising it until I started working for the police, I know the process for victims. I know the support that we can provide to help someone in that situation. If I can do anything to make that process better for everyone involved, then it’s a good day at the office. It’s also the reason I have volunteered for so many years, I just want to help those who may not be able to help themselves.

Winning a Control Room Award is a huge achievement. Can you tell us more about the specific accomplishment that led to your nomination and ultimate win? How did you feel when you found out you'd won?

It’s safe to say I wasn’t expecting a nomination, let alone a win. The nomination came from my colleague who does the same job as me, so the peer-to-peer acknowledgement of hard work almost made it even more special. You expect to be praised by management, not a colleague doing the same work as you! The nomination was originally just for a local award ceremony where I was a finalist/runner up, but the member of staff who handles the local nominations also submits the national nominations and put my nomination forward. I was on annual leave when I found out I was a national finalist and was convinced my line manager had it wrong when he contacted me. I never expected to actually win on the night. I know how hard people work up and down the country and didn’t for one second think anything I had done in the last few years was above and beyond, in my opinion it’s just what everyone would do.

If you had to share one piece of advice or share a key learning with your fellow control room colleagues, what would it be?

I think this is simple…. Actively listen. We all have things going on in our personal lives but if you stop to listen to what someone is really telling you, you may be able to be the difference that person needs. That goes not only for the public we serve, but for our colleagues also. The calls and experiences that our Control Room colleagues can go through is unimaginable to most people who have never worked in this environment and often people speak with more than just words, so if someone asks if you have time for a cuppa and a chat, try to find the time and they might want to discuss more than just the weather.

Congratulations again to Karen for winning a Control Room Award. It’s the people behind the scenes who often go unnoticed, but who make a massive difference every day in the work they do



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