Paid staff that use the digital telephones day-to-day can have difficult learning curves, so we can readily expect that unit participants, as intermittent users, will face a significant problem.
Why? Because the practices we've grown up with no longer work and how to use the telephone is no longer obvious. There are aspects that must become ingrained habits or they are soon forgotten. Otherwise we have emergency communicators who do not know how to use the basic agency communications tool, the telephone.
Let's reflect on this. Note that the basic communications tool is the telephone. To some, saying this in a bulletin may lead to frustration and, yes, concern from Amateur Radio licensees who "want to be able to use their radios in service to their communities".
We can understand and honor that desire, but time and again the situation is very different than it used to be when we could pick up handhelds, mobile or portable units and dash off to help an agency in need. Oh, of course, there are jurisdictions where that situation still exists, but there as so many others where the phones are many times more difficult to use than VCR's or AM/FM radios with their LED's blinking 12:00 day after day.
Yes, phone systems can be, and are interrupted and fail but phone systems have remained intact through countless emergencies, so we must be familiar with the systems or display our ignorance or inability to work with a basic communications day-to-day tool of the agency.
At many of today's government EOC facilities new digital phones come with a fifty page Quick Reference Guide; and the agency also provides additional instructions on how to access messages left in the answering mode. On one such digital phone instrument, in order to access messages, one must enter a five (5) digit access code and other numbers in order to hear recorded messages. In other words the old pick-it-up and talk telephone has been replaced by a sophisticated communications tool (system) of which there is a distinct learning curve that has to be constantly reinforced to retain familiarity and usefulness.
What we can do to prepare is to establish training in the key essential phone functions. We can develop a readily available list of key numbers to which to transfer a call should the need arise (along with simple indicators as to HOW to do that.) We can post a list of key agency paid-staff personnel by name and function. We can post a list of basic mailbox uses, basic commands, custom commands, pictorial examples of the buttons on the instruments. All of which we still need to reinforce with actual and repeated usage of the phone SYSTEM functions so we do not display our inadequacies with what used to be the POT, Plain Old Telephone.