Welcome to the 911WF Blog…

Thank You for Visiting the 911 Wellness Foundation

We are the 911 industry’s only organization exclusively devoted to fostering optimal well-being and peak performance of the Very First Responder.

On behalf of the 911WF Board of Trustees, I’m grateful that you’ve taken the time to visit and we hope you’ll exploreeach of our pages via the tabs above. We’ve revised our blog to optimize its value. By scrolling down you can enjoy watching a few quick videos made by 911WF’s Rich Thacker in which I explain the Foundation’s unique value to specific 911 stakeholder groups. (A complete library of our videos can be found by clicking the 911WF

Videos tab above. This is a work in progress.) Scrolling further down on this page, you’llalso find brief descriptions of new blog pages including 911 Wellness News, Building your CSMPs, and Personal Stories of 911 Professionals.

Thanks so much forjoining us! Please share our blog with all those you believe would appreciate the Foundation’sCSMPPic work and the chance to be a part of our mission. And please visit our 911WF Facebook Page. Just log on and respond to the prompt to join. Our FB Administrator will promptly approveyour request so you can begin reading and joining in on all the great conversations right away.

I welcome your emails! 911Wellness@live.com. Thanks much, and enjoy!

Jim Marshall, chair/ceo

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 Together we’re charting a course for Resilience & Well-Being of the Very First Responder in the Next Generation PSAP. Click on the titles below to watch videos and learn more. Then email us to explore becoming a 911WF Partner!

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Note: in the videos above for EMDR Therapists and Health Science Professionals, reference was made to Northern Illinois University’s Michelle Lilly, Ph.D. and early data from her newest study (not yet unpublished) suggesting that 25-30% of telecommunicators acknowledged symptoms consistent with the diagnosis of PTSD. Now, with data from more than 700 telecommunicators, this suspected PTSD rate has stabilized at approximately 22% (personal correspondence with J. Marshall, 3.19.14). This rate is three times higher than an estimated 7% for PTSD among the general public in the U.S. and is three percent higher than our Viet Nam veterans’ lifetime estimated rate of 19%, (from Correlates of Utilization of PTSD Specialty Treatment Among Recently Diagnosed Veterans at the VA. See http://psychiatryonline.org/data/Journals/PSS/4322/pss6208_0943.pdf. Last accessed 4.26.14.)

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NEW 911WF BLOG PAGES

The 911 Wellness News page

This page covers all significant events involving or affecting the Foundation, such as these articles:

  • 911 Wellness Foundation and the National Emergency Number Association Establish Official Alliance, by Jim Marshall, July 7, 2014
  • 911WF and the Texas Chapter of NENA Also Establish Official Alliance, By Jim Marshall, July 7, 2014

Visit this page now.

We’re also delighted to offer our readers two more new pages  that will add real value in your effort to contribute to our Foundation’s mission. These new pages include…

The Build Your PSAP’s CSMP! page

This page introduces 911 leaders to the NENA Standard on Acute/Traumatic and Chronic Stress Management (NENA STA-002) and offers resources to assist North American 911 centers in implementation of their Comprehensive Stress Management Programs (CSMP) called for in the Standard. Visit this page now.

The Personal 911 Stories Page

On this page you’ll find captivating stories written by 911 Professionals that help bring you in touch with the people who have lived the life of the Very First Responder. The purpose of these stories is not to sensationalize, cause alarm or invoke pity for 911Pros: it is to help their peers to know that they are not alone, and to inspire respect and boost commitment among all 911 stakeholders to join us in serving this remarkable group of human beings who serve us all each day. Visit this page now.

Again, thanks so much for investing your time to explore 911WF. We hope you’ll become a part of us! Feel free to email me: Jim Marshall, 911Wellness@live.com.

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NATIONAL (PUBLIC SAFETY) TELECOMMUNICATORS WEEK

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As we celebrate National Public Safety Telecommunicators (April 13-19) my mind goes to the incredible psychological load that all our 911 professionals bear daily to deliver the 24/7/365 service upon which their field responders and we as citizens  have come to rely. Much of the focus of the 911 Wellness Foundation this week and ongoing is on the frontline telecommunicator. And rightly so, given the unique stress of their work.

Yet the accomplishments of our Very First Responder depend on the support of the entire local 911 family: you, the supervisors who often still take calls and dispatch even as you provide moment-to-moment support to call-takers and dispatchers on “the floor”; you, the managers and directors who run constantly between the center and a multitude of people and projects to keep your center running, advancing, funded, and your people well; you, administrative assistant living in the hub of the PSAP’s whir and hum, working to keep everyone else on task; you, the training coordinators who develop, conduct, seek out, and handle all the logistics of securing and documenting participation in quality training for their telecommunicators; you, the Quality Assurance officers who (in many agencies) listen to thousands of calls in a career–the good, the bad, the ugly–and often must re-live the distress experienced by all originally involved; and you too, the IT Pros who face constant maintenance and repair demands, planning and overseeing equipment upgrades and frankly a lot other stuff I don’t understand!

And, just as you intend it, these entire 911 operations run silently behind the emergency scene, completely outside the view or full consideration of most citizens. The systems you create and operate enable the caller in peril to simply pick up the phone in that moment of great need, punch those three digits and, magically, gain instant access to all the area’s emergency services.

The 911 Wellness Foundation recognizes that the shared stress experienced by all of you 911 professionals (“911Pros”) is enormous–and that by the very nature of your work conditions you have little opportunity to come together in one place at one time as a 911 family, to take a deep breath and reflect with pride and mutual appreciation on how you as a team achieve the remarkable success the rest of us have come to take for granted. We know too that you don’t do this work for the praise of others and that your greatest reward is from the satisfaction of knowing you help save lives.

Still, those of us who work in support roles to you 911Pros can at least help create a rewarding moment by duly acknowledging your vital role in our communities: so we at the Foundation cheer you on and offer our deep respect for the enormous value and complex stress of your work, and the role that you, collectively, play in providing our nation, our communities and our own families with a security upon which we can rely in life’s worst moments.

THANK YOU, 911!

May you enjoy health and joy in your own lives within and beyond the PSAP–and an ever-deepening appreciation for each other. You deserve it!

With gratitude and in behalf of the 911WF Board of Trustees,

Jim Marshall, Chair & CEO

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The Key to Success (“Sine Qua Non”) for NG911

I don’t speak Latin and you probably don’t either. But the term Sine qua non outstrips English in getting a critical point across. (Definition coming soon, but first a little historical context.) The industrial revolution in America exceeded our wildest dreams in creating technology, transportation, fuel sources, and products that improved the quality of life in our country. Yet it is also a matter of record that our industrial growth outpaced the rate of crucial reflection on health risks to which industrial workers were exposed.  (Think coal-mining before government regulation under Teddy Roosevelt and Howard Taft, and management of hazardous waste before NIOSH.)

Next Generation 911 represents the greatest leap forward for emergency communications in our history, promising to optimize emergency response, potentially saving more lives on scene. This new Internet Protocol based infrastructure will enable 911 reception of text messaging, real-time video, photographs, and other data yielding much richer information upon which to formulate and engage 911 emergency response. (Imagine the capacity for telecommunicators to see on scene via real-time video as they assist a mother in performing CPR on her child in respiratory distress.) Yet to assure successful adaptation to these technologies, the 911 Wellness Foundation (911WF) urges 911 stakeholders to systematically address three critical questions:

  • How will the telecommunicators’ experience interacting with callers and field responders via NG911 capabilities impact the nature and extent of their mental and emotional labor on the job?
  • What are the implications for their performance and health?  
  • How will we design the human-machine interface, prepare telecommunicators to operate within it, and provide the ongoing evaluation and psychological support they need to maintain optimal personal and professional functioning?

Addressing these questions is the Sine Qua Non of NG911–that is, something absolutely indispensable or essential for success (Merriam’s Dictionary). This point was underscoredas I taught telecommunicators today–all veteran 911 professionals (911Pros). As  they imagined handling calls via real-time video, their responses covered a spectrum I’ve heard consistently around the country . On one side of the room a dispatcher stated enthusiastically: “That won’t bother me. Bring it on. I will have more power to help my field responders”. And then a telecommunicator on my right spoke up: “I chose dispatch, not field response as a career because I don’t want to see it or be on scene.” Even as 911Pros can clearly see the benefits to the public and are united in their devotion to supporting their field responders, they also share a widespread anxiety about the potential for being impacted negatively at the console by multi-sensory exposure to tragic scenes via real-time video. Their concern is supported by science: Roberta Troxell’s 2008 study found that dispatchers are already the first on scene psychologically via Legacy 911 contact and that they experience stress impacts comparable to field responders.

During the Michigan NENA Conference in 2012, former NENA President and current 911 911WF board member Rick Galway led the way to a balanced discussion of these concerns by pointing to an inevitable scenario for which we must prepare: “Sooner or later it is going to happen. A dispatcher is going to take a call via real-time video from a suicidal caller–he’s gonna shoot himself and the dispatcher will see it. We need to be ready.” While technological preparation for the launch of real-time video and other NG911 technologies is advancing rapidly, we must catch up in preparing 911 professionals (911Pros) to assure their Psychological Readiness.

Fortunately, industry leaders are stepping forward to address these concerns. In August, 2013, the National Emergency Number Association (NENA) established the Standard on Acute, Traumatic and Chronic Stress calling for all North American PSAPs to assure provision of “Comprehensive Stress Management Programs” for their employees. This standard can assure a basic level of support for our 911Pros in the current Legacy 911 environment if it is universally adapted. Yet in itself it is not adequate to accomodate the predictable increases in stress related to NG911. NENA has begun to explore anticipated increases in NG911 workload. The NENA “Task Overload” Workgroup is surveying their membership to learn “how much is too much” for a dispatcher to handle and how we can identify and manage those variables to prevent overload.

These NENA initiatives are two pillars of work upon which 911 stakeholders must build a much more comprehensive and well-orchestrated plan to secure the future of NG911.

911WF invites vendors, our leading 911 associations and organizations, local 911Pros, elected and appointed officials and citizens to join experts in research and health sciences now in a pragmatic and evidence-based exploration of the three key questions above leading to the establishment of a BluePrint for 911 Wellness in the NG911 PSAP

Please join 911WF in the pursuit of this BluePrint to assure that the NG911 infrastructure has at its core a Human-Machine Interface that is informed by the health sciences and can thereby truly protect the well-being of the dispatcher–the Very First Responder upon whom the entire emergency response system depends.

Thank you for taking time to read this posts. Your comments are encouraged, and to learn more about how you can partner with 911WF in this effort contact Jim Marshall by email, 911wellness@live.com or call 231.881.1434.

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CHRISTMAS for Very First Responders: the Gift of Resilience

So how do you really feel about Christmas this year? Some folks just can’t get enough of the Christmas music; they marvel at the decorations adorning downtown areas and neighbhorhoods aglow. They are able to connect with child-like delight as the whole multi-sensory extravaganza once again unfolds before their eyes. Some years I can join in with these perpetual kids. I hope that everybody can.

But there are also plenty who are  just exhausted by the time December 25 rolls around, or anxious about what “Auld Langs Cry” will sound like this year when the family gets together again. They count down the days and hold their breath until all the hubbub has passed. Others, because of religious differences or unhealed crises of faith may travel through this season like folks on their annual trek into a neighboring country with passport in hand–not gleeful, not particularly bothered by the religious message, just feeling a return of that yearly sense that they simply don’t belong.

To keep grounded amidst the stress and expectations every December brings, I remind myself  that the season will not magically perfect our families, exempt us from mayhem, or protect us from tragedy. For me it is ultimately a time to sift through the good and tangled of life here South of Heaven, to breathe in a message that indeed originates from Christianity but can also be affirmed by those of different faith orientations: The Creator, who is Light, and in whose image we are all made, still loves us and  is Here for us in the midst of it all. I’m not trying to impose this belief on others. It’s just what I believe.

Yet my grasp on this comforting truth is admittedly quite slippery at times because as you each know, those of us who do crisis work  don’t spend most of our time “Under the Spout where the Glory comes out” as the hokey ole 50’s hymn goes. We choose to stand strategically under the Other Spout. You know, the one where the, um, Humanity comes out! Oh, and there’s this: we aren’t exempt from our own personal crises, right? That combo can create what many members of our 911 Family can both relate to: a crisis of faith. Often sitting elbow to elbow with members of our incredible 911 Family, telecommunicators’ will sound the “amen”: this work does challenge our faith. They will say, in so many words:

“If only the general public knew what really happens out there in one day–they have no idea!” These telecommunicators are referring to that bizarre mix that comes pouring in through their headsets during the Holidays when supposedly “all is calm, all is bright…”. Dispatchers, like trauma therapists, are containers that get stuffed– not full of toys like Santa’s Big Bag– but with all the unfortunate, tragic, and unnecessary-ugly stuff that goes on in the lives of callers. 

So, maybe you’re thinking, Okay, thanks Marshall, for the nice depressing message, you Grinch. Merry Stinking Christmas to you too. Are you always such a downer?

Hold on already! I’m not finished yet.

Here’s the point: Crises of Faith, cynicism, and skepticism are common among emergency responders. And while we may not get all jazzed up by the loud, frenzy and glitter of commercial Christmas, we don’t have to cheat ourselves of the Comfort of the real Christmas message. The unexpected pathway to peace amidst stress and unanswered questions may be this: to accept our doubts AND allow that, maybe, just maybe the Season’s glitter and all the frenzy is a Gift of Strength and a sign of human RESILIENCE–folks refusing to give up despite hardship.

Truth be told, I’ve seen some dispatchers wearing tinsel and elf hats at their consoles.

I hope this Christmas you’ll have or make a little time to breathe in the true Message of Christmas–that you are Significant, you are Loved…and to find and express gratitude for the imperfect beauty around you.

Peace to you!

Jim Marshall,

911 Wellness Foundation

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MUCH TO BE THANKFUL FOR…

To all the 911 Family and in behalf of the 911 Wellness Foundation (911WF) Board of Directors I offer thanks for our nation’s 911 professionals.

As part of my Thanksgiving I reflected back on the many times my extended family and friends have reached out in crisis to call 911, and I felt a lot of gratitude. And then my mind drifted to the question: What are the hidden costs of 911 interventions delivered by the 911Pro each shift, each week, each month of each year to those in life threatening emergencies involving children,  the elderly, those in suicidal despair, others trapped in house fires or domestic violence, and so many more critical scenarios? 

Certainly the public defrays the financial expense of such 911 service. But how are we as 911 stakeholders helping to manage the enormous EMOTIONAL COSTS incurred by our 911Pros over the course of their careers in caring for the public in peril?  Only in the past few years have we begun to research the toll such emotional labor takes on the health of telecommunicators.

Kim Matelski, Charlevoix-Cheboygan-Emmet Central Dispatch Photography by Joni Hayes

Kim Matelski, Charlevoix-Cheboygan-Emmet Central Dispatch
Photography by Joni Hayes

Could we reach a point at which we will not be able to attract and retain workers capable and willing to do such mentally grueling work?One of the most stressful and frustrating challenges facing our nation’s 911 Center leaders is adequately staffing and retaining 911 frontline telecommunicators. Indeed, eight years ago APCO’s Project RETAINS affirmed that retention rates are poor and must be improved.

Consider this analogy: we as a nation are rightly concerned about conserving natural resources, such as water from our Great Lakes.We recognize that without strategic long-term planning to prevent contamination of our water supply, physical life, community survival and commerce in the Midwest all stand at serious risk.

The greater, the stronger, the more plentiful a resource is perceived to be, the more apt its beneficiaries are to take it for granted. We assume it will always be there taking care of us. This assumption is understandable, but of course it is dangerously inaccurate.

I believe this principle also holds true for the public’s expectations of our 911 workforce. Because 911 has for so long answered the call of duty and performed at extraordinary levels of competence and efficiency, 911 stakeholders assume we will always be able to tap those three digits and experience this same speed and quality of emergency response. But 911 telecommunicators–however extraordinary they must be to do this work– are also just human. They are subject to the same risks of compassion fatigue, traumatic stress disorders and chronic stress-related illnesses as any of us would be when exposed to high levels of traumatic events in the line of duty.

The mission of the 911 Wellness Foundation is not to sound a false alarm or generate undue drama about these concerns. It is to optimistically join the resources of all 911 stakeholders in a concerted long-term effort to think and plan strategically, to sustain and optimize the health of our Very First Responders– just as leaders in the Great Lakes Region have worked to assure mid-westerners’ access to clean water in the future.

Leading 911 stakeholders are talking their place in this 911 Wellness effort.The National Emergency Number Association (NENA) is evidencing a high priority placed on this critical issue with establishment of its new Standard on Acute, Traumatic and Chronic Stress Management Standard (approved August 2013).  And NENA’s has featured the topic of stress, mental health and wellness in its latest edition of its flagship journal, The Call. The International Academies of Emergency Dispatch has joined 911WF to partner in optimizing the health of our 911 workforce.

This Thanksgiving, please join my own family in giving thanks to all our 911 professionals–those who serve at the console, those who supervise, and those 911Pros who manage personnel and systems. And please consider lending your support to the 911 Wellness Foundation as we pursue this mission.  I welcome your emails and will take time to explore with you how you can contribute uniquely to our work.

Peace to you!

Jim Marshall

Chair & CEO

911 Wellness Foundation

email: 911Wellness@Live.com

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Let’s Honor State Trooper Butterfield and Lend Support to all Emergency Responders Who Need to Grieve

Reposted from 9.11.13

Yesterday, September 10, State Trooper Paul Butterfield died in the line of duty. Officer Butterfield of Oceana County, MI was shot during a traffic stop. Such a tragic loss of a young man serving his community reverberates quickly and painfully throughout the nation’s emergency response community. During a quick dinner break on the road this evening, I expressed condolences about this loss to a state police trooper from Mt. Pleasant and at the name “Butterfield” I could see his countenance fall.

For those of us who didn’t know this public servant, there is still much we can do to help in his honor and the honor of his many peers who too have fallen: first we can just say how sorry we are to all who know and have worked along side Paul. 911WF begins here by acknowledging Richard Feole, the Mason-Oceana 911 Director and his entire team of telecommunicators. Among the hardest stories 911Pros live through begins with the words “Officer down”. We are SO sorry.

In the bigger picture too, we can recognize that law enforcement officers and other emergency responders beginning with the Very First (the telecommunicator) struggle deeply with how to face such tragedies that strikes their own. Torn between “sucking it up” and the enormous emotional stirring, they often find it difficult to know what to do with grief and traumatic stress.

As mentally resilient and courageous as they may be, these responders often share a paramilitary belief about emotions taught in earnest error for many generations in America: that sadness (like fear) is weakness that interferes with staying strong on the job. There is no judgment in this statement: the fact is that jobs requiring repeated exposure to traumatic life-and-death scenarios can condition responders to believe it is stupid to sit with vulnerable emotions. Why? Because these emotions if fully felt may seem to threaten our ability to “keep on keeping on” tomorrow and the day after tomorrow knowing sooner or later we will face such tragedy again. Predictably, the risk of depression and compassion fatigue increases among responders who survived the best they could living by that emotional code.

So, as we have the opportunity to encounter those emergency responders (including 911 Professionals) touched by Officer Butterfield’s death we can help simply by speaking sincere words that express our sorrow and empathy. Such open caring can encourage them to validate and feel their own pain and travel through it rather than around it. The chance to grieve with freedom and support as we were designed to do can make a lifetime of difference. And helping someone find hope among ashes is quite a gift.

If you are one of those struggling in the aftermath of such painful loss (as so many dispatchers who write to me often) please take these words to heart. And remember, 911WF is here to help you. Email us at 911Wellness@Live.com.

Peace to you.

J. Marshall

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9/11 for 9-1-1: A Two-Fold Call to Remember and Re-Commit

(Re-posted from 9.11.13)

Today we commemorate one of the events in our nation’s recent history that Americans greatly wish had never happen or at least could be forgotten. Yet we are all drawn back by the common instinct to honor those lost and their loved ones who still strive to heal and rebuild their lives. Among them, immortalized by images replayed on our TV screens and embedded in our minds, are members of the NYC First Responder Community.

In behalf of the 911 Wellness Foundation board of directors I offer up a prayer for personal healing from haunting trauma, and for the rebuilding of hope and lives even beyond what folks may believe is possible. (A benefit of my clinical trenchwork with those suffering from PTSD is seeing this prayer answered again and again.)

The city of New York is best seen as the epicenter of the 9/11 catastrophe of an enormous psychological shock wave that emanated outward throughout the country that day. It still pulses with heartbreak for Americans everywhere, especially each year on this day. No matter what state we hail from, each of us can recall just what we were doing that day, that moment the news came to us or flashed upon a screen nearby.

I am drawn back to the moment I sat in my office fully absorbed in the story of a distraught client. Honoring the Cardinal Rule to never interrupt a session except for emergencies, my secretary knocked rapidly on my door. I was in shock as she broke the news and put me through to a call from a school principal desperate for help leading his student body in processing the trauma. I was compelled to go instantly not only by the need to help his students but also because my own 12 year old daughter was among them. Weren’t all of us drawn to be with our own families in that instance of terror with an urgency we may have never so strongly before? The sense of security most Americans took for granted prior to 9/11/2001 has never quite been regained.

So first we remember for New York. Secondly, to remind ourselves that today, each today is a gift too precious to squander or fail to invest in a Life beyond ourselves, to a greater good.  For the 911 Wellness Foundation that greater good is the well-being of The Very First Responder. We don’t think upon NYC to criticize for even a moment, but we are compelled to wonder compassionately: how have the good souls with headsets on in that city on that day been impacted through the years? As the invisible first responder who heard what no else quite heard the same way, did they get the help that many dispatchers still don’t receive after major emergencies: to validation that they too were personally involved in and affected by the traumatic events they managed; the chance to join the rest of their emergency response family and talk through it all; ongoing support from 911 leaders educated about PTSD; and, access with genuine encouragement to seek EMDR therapy to heal?

In no way am I here assuming leadership failures in NYC regarding care of dispatchers. The fact is that despite how advanced American medicine and psychology are, we are all still learning together about trauma and how to respond to it. That is our privilege and greatest opportunity to safe-guard our mental health and quality of life for the future.

So, for 911WF this is a day for us to commit as an organization to a task we are now prepared to pursue: as NYC officials may desire, we will offer help in sensitively seeking answers to those crucial questions above, and to supporting NYC leaders (themselves still recovering)  in assuring the best possible ongoing support for their 911Pros who lived through that day and those that joined them since 2001.

How has remembering 9/11 affected and inspired you? If you want to join the 911WF mission, we’d welcome your email: 911Wellness@live.com.

Peace.

Jim Marshall, Chair

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