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Public Safety Column
The IPSA's Public Safety Column is an opportunity for our members and corporate sponsors to provide thought leadership articles about all topics facing public safety.
The articles we publish are not necessarily the views of the IPSA, rather they are opinions shared by each contributor.
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Time often has a healing effect. Memory of historic events often fades, but we must never forget the horrific events of 9/11. As we honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice to protect our freedom, we also remember where we were on that tragic day and how it's changed our futures as public safety professionals.
IPSA Board Chair and Assistant Chief J. Scott Quirarte recalls where he was on 9/11/2001
“I was a new fire captain on duty. When the second plane hit the towers we knew we were being attacked. We watched in disbelief; how could this be happening. I quickly realized the crew was looking at me for direction. Honestly, I had no idea what to do so we starting talking about the possibility of an attack on the west coast and what we would do.
The attack occurred close to shift change so we kept both shifts on duty ready to respond in county or mutual aid outside the county. We waited and watched for the next two days.
This was the first time I realized we did not really know our counterparts in law enforcement or emergency management. For a handful of us on the department this was the start of our slow road to better integrated response.”
IPSA Board Member and Ret. Chief Scott Edson remembers 9/11/2001
"I was a Lieutenant for the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department at the time and was at home preparing for work when the first plane hit the twin tower. I watched on TV in horror when the second plane hit. It was now clear to me we were under attack.
My duties at the time we're managing the largest law enforcement Data Network in the nation and of course I was now even more concerned with the cyber-terrorism threat. In 2001 cyber-terrorism was fairly new and unfortunately, terrorism was already growing across the Nation. Today, some 20 years later, cyber-terrorism is most popular terrorism because of the veil of secrecy and an attack will likely have many victims."
IPSA Board Member and Ret. Fire Captain Brad Havrilla recalls 9/11/2001
“I was on duty as a Firefighter Paramedic on our Special Operations Team at Palm Beach County Fire Rescue doing morning equipment checks at the fire station when we saw the first plane crash into the tower. We were all glued to the tv. My thoughts were with the firefighters that I had ridden with in New York while attending the National Fire Academy. I rode with Rescue 1 and Rescue 3 on our weekend break. Our instructors met us at the WTC and gave us a tour and discussed the1993 terrorist bombing response. When the first tower fell one of the firefighters asked if I thought there were crews still in the building. Unfortunately, I knew they definitely were. Days later, some of my closest friends would be working ground zero as members of the USAR team and the US Marshals Service searching for survivors.
After 9/11 I decided that what I was doing as a Special Operations Firefighter/Paramedic was not enough. I made a commitment that night to branch into Law Enforcement as a Tactical Medic. It wasn’t easy back then, but I finally was successful. As a Firefighter I attended the National Firefighter Memorial in Washington DC the next year as a member of our departments Honor Guard. I am proud that I could honor those brave Firefighters and their families. I surrounded myself with people who “Never Forgot” and stayed committed to improving the Fire Service.”
IPSA Board Member and Lt. Bob Marland remembers 9/11/2001
“I was assigned as an Administrative Lt at our Headquarters. I was watching the news and saw the first plane strike the tower. I had a bad feeling that this wasn’t an accident. I continued to watch thinking through possible operational responses if this wasn’t an accident and then I watched the second plane hit. I was assigned to go through all the courts to locate officers and send them back to their units. I was assigned with deploying units to exterior security at the Federal Reserve, City Hall and the Virginia Capital.”
IPSA Board Member and Lt. George Steiner remembers 9/11/2001
“I was living in Chicago in the Wrigleyville neighborhood when 9/11 happened. I remember people leaving the city because we were unsure if there would be any more attacks. The streets were empty, businesses were closed there was an uncomfortable quietness. My wife and I had just started dating a week before 9/11.”
IPSA Board Member Gregory Walterhouse recalls 9/11/2001
“On 9/11 I was Deputy Chief of Operations with the Rochester Hills Fire Department and was in a city staff meeting when the first plane struck the World Trade Center. When the second plane struck the south tower, it was apparent it was a terrorist attack and not knowing the extent immediately secured all city buildings. How public safety trains and responds to incidents was forever changed that day.”
IPSA Board Member Wren Nealy remembers 9/11/2001
“On 9/11, I was at training with the Houston FBI, supporting them as a tactical medic. I remember this vividly when the Supervisory Agent abruptly stopped the firearms training and called in the team. He told us of the attack and called an end to the training. He advised we were all on standby for deployment. The thought of being deployed to ground zero caused everyone to pause. Going home to pack and explain and tell my family I was deploying was difficult. Even though I couldn’t tell them, they had watched the news and knew where I was going. Being in this ready deployment state for what ended up being 24-hours, only to be stood down, was stressful and something I will never forget.”
Collectively as a nation, we have made significant progress since 9/11 to keep our country safe. This includes improved intelligence collection, information sharing and inter-agency cooperation through Fusion Centers and other means; improved public safety communications, the development of the National Incident Management System, increased funding to state and local governments through the Homeland Security Grant Program and more.
We have also collectively been successful in averting a major terrorist attack on U.S. soil since 9/11. However, our nation must not rest on a false sense of security.
We must remain diligent and continue to collect, analyze and share intelligence information between federal, state and local agencies, and protect critical infrastructure against physical and cyber-attack.
Accomplishing this requires that all public safety disciplines work together cooperatively and synergistically at the federal, state, and local levels as well as internationally with our foreign allies.
By Juan Pereira Volunteer First Responder with Central Alberta Sexual Assault Support, IPSA member
Public safety personnel (e.g., border patrol, telecommunicators, corrections officers, firefighters, emergency personnel, ambulance crews, law enforcement and frontline medical workers) are frequently subjected to various psychologically traumatic events (PPTEs). These events include witnessing violent behavior and moments of accident. Other employment constraints that may impact public safety mental health include shift work, tight scrutiny, occupational stigma, intimidation and harassment.
Regardless of the high prevalence of exposure, few scientifically validated strategies and programs are in place to prevent post-traumatic stress injuries (PTSIs) in public safety.
Anxiety and depression, melancholy, physiological reactivity, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), suicide ideation and attempts, and regressive survival techniques, such as drug and alcohol usage or avoidance can all result from PPTE interactions.
Public safety personnel deserve medication and services that are efficient, timely and cost-effective. This article investigates peer support as a viable technique for first responders who have PTSD and operational stress injuries in the public safety sector. Although many businesses offer mental health resources, stigma and concerns about confidentiality can hinder public safety personnel from taking advantage of these services.
Peer support groups
Public safety personnel are more inclined to communicate their sentiments and problems with someone who has gone through comparable situations, like firefights, than with people who have not.
Peer support groups rely on experienced counterparts to form a beneficial bond with people who have endured terrible events by providing empathic and behavioral assistance, support, and optimism.
A physician specialist or a colleague can lead the support group approach. Gatherings typically comprise only 10 to 15 individuals and regularly assemble, such as once a month, to enable and provide a welcoming forum for engaged conversation. Individuals may be members of a weekly meeting session or be eligible to join on a drop-in basis, depending on the organization's setup.
Some organizations serve a diverse community, while others target a specific subgroup, such as women or individuals with disabilities. Engaging in a social or peer support group can encourage people to trade healing and survival skills with others going through the same thing. Group sessions can also be utilized to initiate a one-on-one dialogue with an expert or group figurehead.
Support for operational stress injury program coordinators, for example, meet with RCMP workers and members one-on-one to address their issues and provide information about pertinent recovery and surviving choices. As a result, these support groups are valuable since many people feel better after airing their concerns, issues, and experiences and discussing them.
This support group effort uses similar experiences to foster connection, decrease discrimination and create a long-term platform for receiving aid and sharing information about assistance programs and constructive recovery and survival skills. Simply by providing a place for discussion, support group activities can promote awareness and reduce discrimination among the intended demographics.
Because of similar circumstances, peer support group members "converse in similar dialect" as those they are aiding, promoting an atmosphere of sincerity and trust. As a result, group members are more likely to notice changes in a member's behavior and manner. Social support groups are also vital for organizational coherence and management competency, both required for PTSD rehabilitation.
Peer support groups, through a national strategy for OSI, can encourage first responders and the public to talk about mental and emotional wellbeing and the risks that come with it to raise awareness and make it acceptable. According to BC First Responders Mental Health, these program participants and champions may have a better understanding, awareness, and commitment to mental wellbeing. This understanding of the situation is based on an individual's past, encounters with a significant friend or colleague, or previous success in establishing organizational culture. Therefore, these advocates can inspire and motivate their peers while providing social support by raising awareness of mental and emotional wellbeing.
Integrity and trustworthiness are required to establish fruitful support group connections and develop healthy peer-to-peer dialogues. Support groups benefit individuals, peer supporters, health care providers, and the greater community. This service supports the member by broadening the spectrum of social interactions, offering information to encourage healthy adjustment, survival, healing activities, and providing information on possibilities outside the direct peer partner. Conversely, peer supporters can feel empowered by assisting a peer while strengthening their self-confidence and resilience.
Society learns from a person's participation in a counseling support group, whether it is individual themselves or the individual's relatives, family, and friends. The benefits are healthy connections and well-equipped people to regulate their emotions.
Joining a support group allows people to be more effective without interruptions caused by depression, sadness, drug misuse, addiction, and dependency.
Various separate interventions have been devised as highlighted by International Public Safety Association. Most initiatives include a wide range of peer support and psychiatric therapies aimed at helping people in distress. The activities and accompanying assessments have differed widely in research methodology, intended audience, length of education, scheduling of programs, results evaluated, and follow-up schedule.
Nonetheless, the interventions provided can be classified as peer support and crisis-focused mental and emotional therapies.
About the Author
Juan Pereira received his education background in Police Foundations from Centennial College. He is a student at Wilfred Laurier University working on his BA in Criminology and Policing he hopes to complete his bachelor’s and to dive into his Master of Public Safety with Wilfred Laurier University. He has seven years experience as a volunteer first responder in various public safety organization. He has also been a volunteer with Police Organizations and Crime Stopper Programs. He also has taken on Youth Coordinator Positions and Youth mentorships with other organizations. Email him at email@example.com.
By Sarah Saunders, Telecommunicator, Grays Harbor E-911, IPSA Member
There are times a telecommunicator must speak to callers in crisis. They may have to calm a caller, negotiate with a caller, or keep a caller from hurting themselves or someone else. This article provides some useful tips for building rapport with all callers.
One of the crucial steps to managing a caller in crisis is to establish rapport. Merriam-Webster defines rapport as “a relationship characterized by agreement, mutual understanding, or empathy that makes communications possible or easy.” Rapport is a relationship of trust and mutual influence. While nothing about a caller in crisis is easy, the establishment of rapport is an important step.
To develop rapport with a caller, there are easy steps that can be used to help get the caller the best help in the quickest amount of time. Start by getting the caller’s name and give them your name. Use the caller’s name when addressing them. This often will help ground them, get their attention, and bring them back to the conversation.
The longer the caller is kept on the phone, the better opportunity the telecommunicator has so they can de-escalate the caller and preserve life, while building trust and rapport.
Once you have the key basic details, let the caller talk.
When callers are interrupted, they may get the impression that they are not important or what they are saying isn’t important. Pay attention to what the caller is saying and repeat it back to them.
Make sure to label their emotions. For example, “When you said that you don’t matter to anyone, you sound sad and frustrated.” This allows the caller to know you heard them, and you are taking the time to understand what they are saying. It also allows the caller to correct you if what you labeled or understood is incorrect.
Find common ground
People like people who are like them. Finding commonalities also helps you build rapport.
Telecommunicators can attempt to find commonalities by talking about things they do well, things they like to do, something they have always wanted or wanted to do or something they appreciate. When a telecommunicator finds a commonality, that does not trigger the caller, it is a good idea to pursue that topic further.
Pay special attention to your caller’s hooks and triggers. A hook is something that your caller wants to talk about. It does not upset them, and it helps keep them talking. This is especially important when the caller is wanting to hang-up to kill themselves or others and you need to keep them talking on the phone. Hooks will vary by caller. They could include topics such as things they enjoy doing, a musical instrument they play, their love for hiking, or the dog they keep mentioning. Any time the caller keeps mentioning something, explore that further.
A trigger is something that is upsetting or distressing to the caller. It should be immediately apparent when a line of questioning or topic is triggering to your caller. Telecommunicators need to be able to identify when this is occurring and then avoid the topics, if possible, and steer the caller back to a line of conversation that is safe.
Triggers vary by caller, but often include family or friends, work, or a specific incident. Triggers often include things that the caller feels are out of their control. Just remember to be flexible as emotions are always changing and each caller will be different.
Telecommunicators can also make a scene more volatile and dangerous for emergency responders. If a telecommunicator is unable to establish rapport or continues to trigger a caller, they are likely to be agitated and unwilling to follow responder’s instructions.
The author once dispatched a call where the call-taker angered the caller by calling him sir, and refused to stop. Things escalated so quickly, when officers arrived on scene, the subject had barricaded himself inside his residence and was making threats toward the officers and himself. While this is an extreme case, it shows how a telecommunicator’s actions can and do make a difference when officers arrive on scene.
The author once dispatched a call where the call-taker angered the caller by calling him sir, and refused to stop. Things escalated so quickly, when officers arrived on scene, the subject had barricaded himself inside his residence and was making threats toward the officers and himself. While this is an extreme case, it shows how a telecommunicator’s actions can and do make a difference when officers arrive on scene.
Building rapport is the most important step for a telecommunicator to begin the de-escalation process, and it is even more important when you have a caller that is resistant to law enforcement or emergency response. They may say things like, “If you send the police, I will kill myself.” Once you have successfully established rapport with a caller, they will typically cooperate and understand why the telecommunicator had to send a police or emergency response.
Part of building rapport is allowing your caller to talk and felt heard. This may mean that telecommunicators are going to hear things that they don’t like, don’t want to hear, are disturbed by or don’t agree with. Callers in crisis often have pent up emotions and feeling. They may use profanities, yell, scream or cry. Let them, it is cathartic, and the caller needs to feel validated and heard.
Dispatchers are the critical link that connects callers to much needed help, and effective rapport building skills will only make this link stronger. Building rapport with callers takes time, but it is worth the effort.
Establishing rapport serves to calm your callers and makes them more willing and able to follow your directions. Building rapport is also important for responder safety. As already mentioned, callers may be resistant to police response. This resistance can be overcome by building rapport. This helps the call-taker and the responders and can ultimately aid in a peaceful ending to a very volatile call or event.
Sarah Saunders first sat behind a dispatch console at thirteen years old and has been dispatching full-time since 2001. Throughout her career, she has worked in multiple roles in Arizona and Washington, including dispatcher, trainer, supervisor, training coordinator, tactical dispatch team supervisor, certified instructor, systems security officer and CISM team member. If you have any tips to share or want to provide feedback, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Gregory L. Walterhouse, Associate Teaching Professor, Bowling Green State University, IPSA Member
As employers are modifying or lifting work-at home orders, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and Centers for Disease (CDC) control have issued guidance for both employers and employees. Universal precautions include social distancing as closer contact and longer interaction with others increases the risk of COVID-19 spread, have hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol available, wash hands often and avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands and sneeze or cough into the inside of the elbow.
Workforce COVID-19 education
Notwithstanding, there are some specific precautions employees need to know about returning to work and understand that employers are authorized to establish certain mandates related to COVID-19.
Employee mental health
Mental health must also be a consideration when returning to work. For some employees it will be a welcome opportunity, for others it may result in uncertainty, stress and worry. The American Psychological Association offers some guidance.
Greg Walterhouse is an Associate Teaching Professor in the Fire Administration and Masters in Public Administration programs at Bowling Green State University. He received a Bachelor of Science degree in Management from Oakland University, a Master’s degree in Legal Studies from the University of Illinois and a Master’s degree in Management from Central Michigan University, and a Specialist Degree in Educational Leadership from Bowling Green State University. Before joining BGSU, Greg had over 35 years experience in various aspects of public safety with 18 years in upper management. The author may be contacted at email@example.com.
10 tips for emergency responders, healthcare providers for managing stress during the COVID-19 crisis
Going virtual: How COVID-19 has changed EOC and first responder operations
Sleeping is one of the most important aspects of health and self-care. Sleep can be elusive under the best conditions, and when you add in shiftwork, stress, and life in general, it can be even harder to find.
It can be difficult to get sleep while the sun is out. These tips will help if you are new to shiftwork, new to the night shift, or need a reminder on how to thrive on shiftwork. Follow these simple tricks to help you live your best nightshift life with ease.
Nightshift, especially in the communications center, can be tough. When you follow these simple tips, you should find sleeping will become easier and you will become better rested over time. To learn more, check out this information about nightshifts.
Sarah Saunders first sat behind a dispatch console at thirteen years old and has been dispatching full-time since 2001. Throughout her career, she has worked in multiple roles in Arizona and Washington, including dispatcher, trainer, supervisor, training coordinator, tactical dispatch team supervisor, certified instructor, systems security officer and CISM team member. One of the recurring issues that she had to address, regardless of my role, was getting adequate sleep. If you have any tips to share or want to provide feedback, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
After allegedly failing to include persons with disabilities in emergency response plans, or having deficient plans for equal access to emergency services by disabled persons, a number of public entities have been sued. The basis for most of the lawsuits were alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
In short, under section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, it is unlawful to deny any person, based on disability, who is otherwise qualified, access to benefits from any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance. While identifying and accounting for people with disabilities within a community can present challenges, it is not a valid reason for not including the disabled in emergency response plans. The following cases provide insight on how to develop emergency plans that are inclusive of disabled persons.
New York City
Plaintiffs brought a class action lawsuit against the City of New York for failing to address the needs of people with disabilities in the City’s planning and response to various emergencies including Hurricane Sandy.
The court found that the City violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Rehabilitation Act, and the New York City Human Rights Law by failing to provide people with disabilities meaningful access to the City emergency preparedness program.
Specifically, the City’s evacuation plans did not accommodate the needs of people with disabilities with respect to evacuation from high-rise buildings.
Second, the City’s plan did not provide for accessible transportation for disable persons.
Third, the City’s shelter plan did not provide for architectural or programmatic accessibility to accommodate the disabled.
Fourth, the City had no provisions in their emergency plan to ensure persons with disabilities who were unable to leave their buildings were able to access City services after occurrence of a disaster.
Fifth, the City did not provide for accessible communications at after-disaster resource distribution sites.
Finally, the City lacked sufficient plans to provide people with disabilities information on the existence and location of accessible services in an emergency.
City and County of Los Angeles
The City and County of Los Angeles were also defendants in a similar class action lawsuit that was resolved by settlement agreement without trial. The settlement agreement is 167 pages in length and without going into the minute details of the agreement, Appendix B, Workplan Elements, provides a good summary of the main areas of focus for the settlement agreement and main deliverables.
First, under the mass care heading is developing a mass care and shelter annex in the overall emergency plan and maintaining a list of shelter sites in unincorporated areas of the county.
Second, building a network of stakeholders, establishing and maintaining contact with key stakeholders and planning and conducting workshops and conferences.
Third, under community education is the completion of a Specific Needs Awareness Planning (SNAP) strategic plan, increasing SNAP registration, increasing SNAP operability, and supporting evacuation planning using SNAP.
Fourth under communications is conducting a systems assessment and formulating recommendations and providing forums or workshops.
Fifth, is to make a reasonable effort to conduct, participate in and provide guidance on inclusive drills and exercises.
Sixth, is to develop a recovery plan annex and conduct training. Seventh is to update the current Access and Functional Needs (AFN) annex.
Beyond major cities
Named in a lawsuit among other defendants was Township of Warren New Jersey, with a 2010 U.S. Census population of 15,311 for allegedly failing to provide Mr. Smith who suffered from a disability, with equal access to emergency services that were available to non-disabled persons before, during and after Super Storm Sandy.
In Shirey v. City of Alexandria School Board, the parents of a student filed a complaint in federal court alleging defects in the school’s emergency plans with regard to evacuations of students with disabilities during bomb threats and fire drills.
Guidance by the U.S. Department of Justice
In addition to the New York and Los Angeles cases, the publication Making Community Emergency Preparedness and Response Programs Accessible to People with Disabilities published by the U.S. Department of Justice provides guidance for local governments, which includes the following. Provide notification systems to inform persons who are deaf or hard of hearing of impending disasters.
These could include teletypewriter messages (TTY), text messages, email, and direct door-to-door contact and open captioning on local television. Provide plans for persons with mobility, vision, hearing deficits, mental illness, cognitive and other disabilities to safely self-evacuate or evacuate with the assistance of others. Evacuation planning includes identifying accessible modes of transportation including mass-transit and school buses. Develop and maintain a confidential registry of persons who need assistance with evacuation and publicize the availability of the registry.
Review community shelters for accessibility including parking lots, exterior and interior routes, entrances, toilet rooms and any other potential barriers to accessibility.
Plan to staff shelters with persons who can attend to the special needs of disabled persons and can accommodate service animals. As many shelters as possible should be equipped with emergency standby generators and refrigerators to accommodate life-sustaining medical devices and preserving medications that require refrigeration.
In addition, shelter staff needs training on alternate forms of communication including exchanging written notes, posting written announcements, reading printed material to persons who are blind or have vision deficit, and providing staff proficient in sign language.
While the guidance provided by these lawsuits and the DOJ are not all-inclusive, they provide a solid foundation for the development of emergency response plans that include the needs of persons with disabilities. Emergency response plan development must include input from all stakeholders and be customized based on local needs of disabled persons.
By Christopher Cruz, Cybersecurity Program Manager, Commonwealth of Virginia, IPSA Member
There is a commonly held belief among cybersecurity experts that cyber-attacks are inevitable. "Things go wrong. You can't explain it, you can't predict it." These words weren't from a seasoned cybersecurity expert though, or a veteran network administrator. Instead, this quote originates from the hit 1997 movie “Twister” starring Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt.
This sentiment is important for two reasons. First, cyber incidents are increasing in both severity and sophistication. They are also occurring with a greater emphasis on public and private sector entities that represent community lifelines or national critical functions, both of which are core to public health and safety. Second, there is immense opportunity to leverage many of the core concepts from emergency management to make cyber more accessible for emergency managers and public safety personnel and enable delivery of a Whole Community approach to cybersecurity.
Cyber as a hazard
While there are several emergency scenarios available for comparison, the best parallels are drawn when thinking about cyber as a hazard much the way one would a tornado.
Just like a tornado, cyber incidents are hard to predict and can arise suddenly with little or no warning. They can have significant impacts that are extremely localized or more widespread. And, though most tornados occur between March and August, they can strike year-round if the conditions allow.
This distinction of cyber as a hazard can help circumvent a common belief that cybersecurity is not a public safety or emergency management problem. Nearly all modern agencies have adopted the all-hazards concept for public safety practices, and cyber threats can easily fit into this approach. Similarly, most emergency managers are able to engage in response and recovery work for any number of hazards that they aren't necessarily experts on. This means cyber incidents can still be supported using the same all-hazards management efforts that work for fires, floods, and even tornados.
Many emergency management agencies utilize the five phases, or missions, of emergency management. These are prevention, mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery.
Comparatively, one of the most used cybersecurity concepts is the Cybersecurity Framework (CSF) established by the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST). The NIST CSF utilizes 5 core functions, these are categorized as identify, protect, detect, respond, and recover. For both the emergency management cycle and the NIST CSF, the 5 parts represent the same concept, which is delivering the core components of a holistic and successful program. Both operate not just as pillars, but as cyclical processes with continuous feedback and development.
When laid side-by-side, it becomes clear that cybersecurity and emergency management are following the same key steps, essentially dancing to the same song. Recognition of this alignment makes it easy to establish a common operating picture that enhances incident management for hybrid events, those incidents that have both a cyber component and a physical downstream impact. The most recent string of cyber incidents in the U.S. media included a number of these hybrid events, including Colonial Pipeline, Massachusetts Steamship Authority and JBS. Just as a tornado can be a short and devastating event requiring long term recovery efforts, so should one expect to see more cyber incidents that create longer lasting cascading failures in the physical world.
Whole Community approach
For both cybersecurity and public safety, preparedness is critical. The Whole Community approach was developed by FEMA to address the increasing scale and severity of disasters, and the systemic threats they create. Cyber incidents are equally growing in scale and sophistication, with greater threats and vulnerabilities being discovered year after year.
The Whole Community approach recognizes that emergencies will continue to scale beyond the capabilities of a government-centric program. In response, emergency management must deliver a community-driven effort that includes shared understanding, greater empowerment, social infrastructure, mutual assistance, collective preparedness, and enhanced resilience where responsibility is distributed across residents, communities, emergency personnel, organizational leaders and government officials.
Cybersecurity experts have pushed for more awareness and ownership at the community level, but no significant frameworks have been successful. By integrating cyber into public safety and emergency management, the ability to utilize years of local and regional community engagement and mutual assistance becomes widely available in establishing and enhancing cyber incident response.
The most memorable scene from the movie “Twister” is certainly that of the cow floating by in the funnel cloud. If you see the cow, it's likely too late to engage in planning and preparedness activities. Likewise, it may be too late to build a relationship between cybersecurity and emergency management entities when in the middle of a complex hybrid incident. Planning processes that incorporate cybersecurity considerations from the onset will enable better response efforts when a cyber incident does finally occur.
Please, don't wait for the cow.
Christopher Cruz is the Cybersecurity Program Manager for the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, assigned to the Secretary's Office of Public Safety and Homeland Security in the Commonwealth of Virginia. In this role, Christopher is responsible for the coordination, development, and integration of cybersecurity capabilities across the public safety and homeland security landscape. Previously, Christopher worked for several Fortune 500 companies leading a variety of security projects focused on insider threat, incident response, critical data protection, and IT risk management practices.
By Sarah Guenette, Learning & Development Manager, Calgary Community Standards, IPSA Mental Health & Wellness Committee Member
Because of the pandemic, burnout is now felt on a global scale. There is no doubt that the world is facing a common burnout from coronavirus restrictions. Burnout, though, is not a new phenomenon created by this public health crisis.
This article focuses on burnout in the workplace and what agencies and individuals can do to take meaningful steps to combat its effects.
What is burnout?
Burnout has been officially recognized by the World Health Organization as an “occupational phenomenon”: “Burn-out is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions:
Burnout occurs in several professions, including healthcare and public safety.
In addition to the other occupational hazards specific to emergency services, burnout is something that can affect a first responder’s work life and home life. It is a condition that can creep up on people unnoticed. It is something that continues to add to cumulative stress already experienced by first responders.
Burnout is caused by the long-term presence of cortisol in the body. While cortisol is beneficial to have in emergency situations, over time it can deplete the body’s energy reserves as the body and brain never can rest.
The causes of burnout are varied, but it is often created by chronic workplace stress that has not been appropriately managed. This could be related to heavy workload, lack of breaks or time off and short staffing. In the first responder environment this is exacerbated by a shift work schedule and exposure to traumatic incidents.
In a 2020 paper on the emotional effects of vicarious trauma on 9-1-1 dispatchers, the author cited a study done in the Los Angeles Police Department 9-1-1 Center. It was found that 43 percent of the participants were experiencing high levels of burnout. Interestingly, this was cited as being far higher than other frontline professions.
To complete this study and others on the occurrence of burnout, researchers use the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI). Through a series of questions they rate participants on a scale of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and reduced personal accomplishment. This tool is used to measure employee perceptions of their workplace and associated stressors. Once the degree of burnout is determined there is a further measure to assess what is contributing to the burnout: Workload, Control, Reward, Community, Fairness and Values.
In the case of 9-1-1 dispatchers an “overall feeling of being misunderstood and underappreciated” was found to be prevalent. There was also a higher perceived lack of control in that profession that contributed to both burnout and vicarious trauma.
According to experts, common symptoms of burnout are:
What agencies can do
There are things that agencies can do to mitigate burnout in first responders. Exposure to stress and trauma are inseparably linked to the role of first responder. However, even in this fast paced, adrenaline driven environment there are some things that can be done to reduce the impact of burnout.
Take breaks: Leaders need to promote an environment within their teams where it is acceptable to take breaks as needed. They can model this by taking breaks themselves and by letting employees see them taking this step for their own health. It quickly has a negative cascade effect on a team if the leader promotes the notion that you should work non-stop and needing a break is a sign of weakness, laziness or lack of dedication. Leaders need to promote a health work environment by encouraging breaks/breathers when operational workload allows for it.
Sick leave: Agency leaders also need to work on reducing the stigma related to taking sick leave. Taking sick leave can sometimes be perceived as laziness or weakness. Agencies should be encouraging people to take time off when they need it. One survey showed that 84 percent of respondents have gone into work when they are sick. 33 percent of the respondents said that their employer created a culture of working when you’re sick. This may be exacerbated in a first responder environment by a perception of being perpetually short staffed and teammates having to pick up the slack created by the absence.
Vacation leave: Taking vacation time should also be promoted by leadership. Employees should be encouraged to take paid time off wherever possible rather than banking it out. The lure of the extra income may be tempting, especially to junior members of an agency, but the time away from the job is much more important.
Team building, support programs: In addition to modelling healthy behavior and promoting time off as needed, agencies can also offer support to assist with some of the factors that contribute to burn out. Programs like health and fitness challenges can promote a healthy lifestyle while leading to some friendly competition and team building. A robust peer support program and employee assistance program provides employees with somewhere to go to discuss their stressors and access resources.
In the case of the 9-1-1 dispatch profession mindfulness training was recommended as a way to increase their perceived control over their work role. Even though they can’t control what calls come in, they can control the influence that those events have on them through mindfulness techniques.
What individuals can do
As individuals, first responders can take positive steps to mitigate the stress factors that may lead to burnout in their lives:
Sarah Guenette, M.A., is the Learning & Development Manager for Calgary Community Standards. She oversees recruit training and continuing education for 9-1-1 call evaluators, bylaw and animal officers, business licensing inspectors, livery inspectors and animal shelter services employees. Sarah has a background in 9-1-1 and was a call evaluator, dispatcher and operations manager for over 10 years. She has overseen the Psychological Health and Safety portfolio and the Peer Support team for Calgary Community Standards since 2013. She is passionate about creating and maintaining a healthy workplace for employees. Sarah is also the proud wife of a Calgary Police Service Officer.
By Gregory L. Walterhouse, Associate Teaching Professor, Bowling Green State University, IPSA Board Member
Over the past year there have been calls for rethinking and reimagining policing in the United States. There have been calls for defunding thus de-staffing of law enforcement agencies, decriminalization of various offenses and completely abolishing police departments.
Unintended outcomes in law enforcement are often associated with human error, which is inevitable and is the difference between a desired or planned state and actual state. Since human error will occur countermeasures are necessary and Crew Resource Management (CRM) can provide such a countermeasure by helping to avoid errors, trapping errors when they do occur and mitigating the consequences of errors that are not trapped.
What is CRM?
In short, CRM is a decision-making model for high-risk situations. CRM is a management system using all means available including equipment and personnel to improve safety.
The overarching goal of CRM is to identify human error and make necessary corrections before the error results in an accident. Some of the skills associated with CRM include coordinated two-way communication, decision-making, shared situational awareness, workload management, leadership and teamwork. The objective of CRM is to improve safety through training to optimize performance and the use of the team concept.
Due to increasing commercial aircraft complexity, and the rising number of accidents, most the result of human error, CRM was developed in 1980 in the airline industry. CRM was initially designed for flight crews, but eventually included flight attendants and air traffic controllers. At least one study found that joint CRM training sessions comprising both flight attendants and pilots together, increased positive teamwork behaviors, and broke down communication barriers in finding solutions to in-flight emergency scenarios. CRM has since been used in a number of industries including in maritime, railroads, health care including surgical and anesthesiology teams, the military, helicopter air ambulance operations, dentistry, pharmacy and firefighting.
Does CRM work?
As to the efficacy of CRM, one study found that in the health care industry, CRM resulted in a return on investment of between $9.1 and $24.4 million from avoidable patient safety events.
Another study found that surgical outcomes and safety culture improved after CRM was implemented in a pediatric surgical department. After CRM was implement in a hospital intensive care unit, a three year study found a significant reduction in serious complications and lower mortality in critically ill patients.
An additional study from health care found that CRM training of trauma resuscitation staff, resulted in improved behavior and communication, resulting in enhanced patient safety and by inference reduction of errors.
The United States Coast Guard reports a 74 percent reduction in injuries since implementing CRM.
From the fire service a series of workshops found that CRM was a worthy model to pursue for wildland firefighting.
Finally, a specific success story from aviation is the successful landing of U.S. Airways flight 1549 in the Hudson River which Captain Sullenberger attributed to both his experience and CRM training.
Law enforcement application
Law enforcement officers are called upon to continually make decisions. Often these decisions are high-risk, and must be made in complex high-stress situations. There are also instances where it is alleged that officers fail to intervene when a fellow officer allegedly violates a victim's Constitutional rights including the use of excessive force. It’s in these types of situations, and others, where CRM could help avoid or trap errors thereby reducing unintended consequences of law enforcement interactions with the public.
One author suggests that human error is often not a singular mistake, but a product of the environment the actor is working in. Granted, law enforcement officers at times must make split second decisions while other encounters with the public evolve over a matter of minutes lending themselves to application of CRM training. It is critical that first responders, including law enforcement officers, work as a team in these types of incidents, which is the cornerstone of CRM. Yet, CRM has not been widely implemented in public safety organizations including law enforcement.
CRM focuses on human factors being the source of errors as well as being the best source of avoiding errors. CRM can help law enforcement agencies mitigate undesired outcomes and unintended consequences by focusing on teamwork, communication and theoretical background knowledge. Team work competencies include, leadership, workload management and adaptability. Communication competencies include, professionalism, efficiency and reflection. Theoretical background knowledge includes, shared situational awareness and decision making, reducing human error and stress management.
One concern law enforcement may have with CRM is that it circumvents the traditional chain of command. However, this is not the intent of CRM. Rather CRM promotes team member input while preserving authority. This is consistent with the National Incident Management System (NIMS), under which all law enforcement agencies should currently be operating. Under NIMS, safety is the responsibility of all team members, where any team member regardless of rank, has the responsibility to clearly advocate their position if they disagree with an intended action. CRM builds and expands upon this concept. While this may require a culture change in some law enforcement agencies, it is a crucial change. A culture that supports the assertiveness of all team members regardless of rank or stature, to voice their concerns when they see something going wrong is foundational to implementation of CRM.
Abolishing, defunding, and de-staffing the police is not the answer. Reimagining and rethinking policing are vague concepts that fail to offer a solution. These are uninformed reactions by politicians and vocal special interest groups, many of whom are not supporters of law enforcement. Law enforcement administrators are best situated and informed to improve outcomes and minimize unintended consequences of interactions between law enforcement and the public. CRM offers a viable solution to avoid, capture and mitigate human error and minimize unintended outcomes of law enforcement interaction with the public. CRM needs to be implemented by all law enforcement agencies.
Greg Walterhouse is an Associate Teaching Professor in the Fire Administration and Masters in Public Administration programs at Bowling Green State University. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Management from Oakland University, a Master’s degree in Legal Studies from the University of Illinois, a Master’s degree in Management from Central Michigan University, and a Specialist Degree in Educational Leadership from Bowling Green State University. Before joining BGSU, Greg had over 35 years experience in various aspects of public safety with 18 years in upper management. The author may be contacted at email@example.com.
By Dr. Anna Fitch Courie, Director, Responder Wellness, FirstNet Program at AT&T
In 2017, when AT&T won the contract to build the first nationwide communications platform for first responders, it recognized the tremendous impact that public safety has on the health and wellness of local communities. So in May 2020, as a part of its commitment to build and maintain FirstNet, it established the FirstNet Health and Wellness Program.
AT&T established the program to coordinate and plan for how the organization would support the health and wellness of first responders – integrating academic, community, industry, and organizational capabilities. And it established strategic objectives to help achieve optimal health and wellness for America’s first responders, including:
Scientific Basis of FirstNet Health and Wellness
The FirstNet Health and Wellness Program is built on the socio-ecological model of health. This is a systems theory model that posits we can influence health at different levels of inter-related systems. These include individual, relationship (family, friends, groups, units), community (workplace, schools, cities, towns, etc.), and society (including federal, government, organizational influence).
We built the FirstNet Health and Wellness Program at the societal system level. And AT&T is positioned to use organizational resources and partnerships to influence the health of the first responders it serves.
The socio-ecological model of prevention has been found to be an effective theoretical lens to view complex problems that straddle various populations. And it shows that there is a role in which we can favorably influence health through different interventions.
The goal of public safety is to support, “a secure and resilient nation with capabilities required across the whole community to prevent, protect against, mitigate, respond to, and recover from the threats and hazards that pose the greatest risk.”
A critical component of the public safety infrastructure is the people. That’s why the FirstNet Health and Wellness program considers the health and wellness needs of first responders as a critical aspect of the health of FirstNet. Without the people, the network would not be adaptable, resilient, and able to respond to public safety needs at a moment’s notice.
The FirstNet Health and Wellness program integrates the National Association for City and County Health Officials (NACCHO) Mobilizing Action through Planning and Partnerships (MAPP) process and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Community Health Improvement Framework. These frameworks and processes provide systematic and evidence-based processes for AT&T to navigate the complex health problems that face the first responders it serves.
The FirstNet Health and Wellness Program Process
In the FirstNet Health and Wellness framework, we addressed the health of a population through a step-by-step strategic planning process that included:
The FirstNet Health and Wellness Coalition (FNHWC) Structure
Public safety is a unique population. It spans multiple professions, organizations, and command structures. And there is no single point of policy or command entry to facilitate change at a global or federal level.
So, the success of addressing broad first responder health needs is based on collaboration, partnerships, influence, and consensus. Thereby the stakeholders unite with a collective voice to address the needs of their members.
As a result, a critical component of the FirstNet Health and Wellness program is to bring together the stakeholders and leadership of the diverse public safety disciplines. This way, AT&T can strategically identify priorities and reach consensus on the most effective way to support first responders. This includes over 20 major public safety organizations, which now make up the FirstNet Health and Wellness Coalition. Coalitions have been found to be an effective means for creating a network of partnerships across multidisciplinary organizations to create change.
The Health and Wellness of First Responders
For AT&T, our population of concern is first responders. Evidence clearly indicates first responders face significant health threats from the work that they do. First responders experience post-traumatic stress, anxiety, depression, alcohol and drug abuse, and other comorbidities at rates greater than the general population.
We also know that across all public safety disciplines or professions, one of the main concerns is the health and safety of their people.
Health and safety are common themes despite the different roles these professions execute in the public safety field. However, “health and safety” is a broad and complex concept. To effectively demonstrate and achieve outcomes, we need to peel the onion to reveal the issues that face public safety.
An evidence-based approach to identifying priorities is conducting a needs assessment in addition to a systematic assessment of health surveillance systems and databases. Consequently, the FNHWC deployed the First Responder Needs Assessment in December 2020 to help frame its prioritization efforts. This assessment identified the top health and wellness priorities for our stakeholders, barriers to them accessing resources in the areas, and identifying how they want to get help in the identified priority areas.
Once we identified priorities, the next step is establishing working groups to focus on building action plans to address the priorities. This will formalize how the coalition addresses the priorities. Evidence has shown that well-developed action plans are more likely to lead to the health outcomes groups are trying to achieve. It also helps to formalize roles and responsibilities, establish timelines and budgets, create SMART objectives to drive evaluation, and engage expertise to create interventions and solutions that are valuable to our stakeholders.
The Way Ahead
Organizations have a duty to support the health and wellness of the communities they live in, work and serve. By collaborating with stakeholders in public safety, FirstNet, Built with AT&T, is integrating health and wellness into the mission of FirstNet infrastructure. This type of strategic engagement in the health and wellness of first responders is unparalleled. We realized that the role of AT&T in public safety is about more than delivering the broadband capability of FirstNet. It is also about being there for our customers and engaging in efforts that address the most pressing problems facing them as a result of the work they do.
Dr. Anna Fitch Courie, Director, Responder Wellness, FirstNet Program at AT&T, is a nurse, Army wife, former university faculty, and author. Dr. Courie has worked for over 20 years in the health care profession including Bone Marrow Transplant, Intensive Care, Public Health, and Health Promotion practice. Dr. Courie holds a Bachelor’s in Nursing from Clemson University; a Master’s in Nursing Education from the University of Wyoming; and a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree from Ohio State University. Dr. Courie’s area of expertise is integration of public health strategy across disparate organizations to achieve health improvement goals.
Free Webinar on June 16, 2021. The FirstNet Health and Wellness Coalition: A Strategic Approach to Addressing First Responder Health and Wellness
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