Devoted to fostering the health of 911 professionals in the Next Generation

Welcome to the Foundation!

Have you ever wondered what it must be like to live the life of the frontline 911 dispatcher handling one emergency call after the next: imagine you’re the one at the “console” tracking info on five monitors, interacting via radio and headset with field responders, and with the hysterical mother. You listen as she sobs and you guide her in administering CPR to her breathless infant while also sending directions to  paramedics even though you already know in your gut this one isn’t gonna make it!–all this just after you handled a call from a suicidal teenager who said “good bye–I’m done” and hung up before you could help, and left your heart hanging out of your chest!

How would you feel sitting at that console? Would you want that job? Could you DO that job?

 This blog and the Foundation are devoted to serving the first First Responders in our emergency response system–the 911 dispatcher. I’m thrilled you’ve found us because we need you!

Whether you know it or not,  you are a “911 Stakeholder”— someone who has a vested interest in our nation’s 911 emergency services. You’ve chose the right time to visit our blog since yesterday, December 1 ,2011 our country officially launched itself on a journey, called Next Generation 911. To read more click here.)  “NG911” will change how you experience emergency help when you call 911 by enabling you to “call” 911 via texting, real time video (e.g, skype, smart phone) and other “evolving technologies”. 

NG911 will be great for you, the consumer–especially if your are hearing impaired, or find yourself in a crisis in which rich, timely information about the scene and those present is vital to rescue and medical help. And since these NG911 capabilities should boost dispatcher’s ability to assist in emergencies they too will hopefully feel more empowered as the chances for successful interventions increases–and that could mean  less stress!  For example, if the dispatcher can observe you adminstering CPR to your child, they can correct and guide you more precisely per the instructions. That’s certainly a good thing.

On the other hand, if we are to face the research on stress, we must also do our “due diligence” and face the possibility that NG911 will add MORE stress to the shoulders of our 911 dispatchers. Why/How?  (Okay, again imaginine yourself back at the console with that mother again.) Because you’ll not only hear the screaming, you’ll SEE the panicking mother and her lifeless blue baby–on the big monitor in the middle of your console via real time video from her smart phone or iPad.

This blog, 911 Wellness was created to join all 911 stakeholders in gaining awareness about the enormous health risks placed on dispatchers in the line of duty related to the immense psychological stress of their work–and how NG911 may, along with its benefits, increase stress and these risks for 911 telecommunicators unless we launch this new platform with great care.  

911 dispatchers (a.k.a. Public Safety Telecommunicators or PSTs) have long been underrated in a few big ways: in terms of the critical importance of the role they play in helping save all our lives when we call 911 in peril; in the intelligence, skill, and emotional strength their job demands; and, in psychological and physical toll emergency dispatching takes from the PST as a human being. Fortunately leaders within the industry and the mental health field are growing increasingly aware of how greatly we have underestimated dispatchers, and the high risk this places them at for stress-related diseases…

Afterall, if we dump more on our first first responders and this hard-t0-find/hard to train/hard to keep workforce burns out, who is going to answer your next call to 911–and how well will they do at helping save some you love?

So, this blog is for all of us–911 stakeholders–to gain the shared awareness we need about 911 stress and to help us direct our concern and skills into concerted efforts to fulfill the Foundation’s mission.

But specifically who are 911 stakeholders? Well, first is the citizen who depends on  911 for help in life’s most threatening moments; stakeholders also include all those who help bring these emergency services to the public–the 911 employees who operate our Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs, or 911 centers), along with the government leaders who regulate and oversee 911, the national associations who set 911 standards for PSAP operations and professoinal development, and the “vendors” who supply the 911 industry with the technology and training that enable the efficient, effective help we’ve come to expect when we dial 9-1-1.

 So now you know: you’re a 911 stakeholder. The question is: will you join us in supporting our PSAPs to keep our incredibly talented 911 dispatchers healthy so that they can continue taking amazing care of the rest of us–the public and our field responders as we enter the Next Generation of 911 sevices?

Tell us what you think with your comments! And we hope you’ll explore the rest of this blog and consider becoming a member of the foundation. Your email is also welcomed!Info@911Wellness.com.

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5 Responses to Devoted to fostering the health of 911 professionals in the Next Generation

  1. JLanier says:

    ■ In your opinion, while we know that susceptibility to traumatization varies by individual, would you predict that overall dispatcher stress, emotional labor, and potential for traumatization will increase? Why/how so?

    Currently in the audio intensive calltaking world of the 911 Public Safety Telecommunicator (PST) there are of course the inherent stressors due to the situations that the callers are describing, the management of these callers when they are emotionally upset, the pressure on the PST to intervene in a meaningful way, and the stress of often not knowing how effective the interventions were.

    I liken NG911 video (especially if 2 way video were to be utilized) to “immersion” which will directly or by proxy have the potential to increase stressors. The PST is not only going to hear what the situation is from the “caller” but will also potentially view it as unfolding as well–which could lead to strong vicarious traumatization and/or PTSD during extreme events. However, with video, there could be less stress than audio only in certain situations as the PST may have the ability to more properly manage (direct) the situation and get visual confirmation as to the interventions needed. For example, if a “caller” is feeding in a video of a foot cut on glass, the PST could give bleeding instructions, view them being applied and then visually confirm that the intervention is successful.

    Text or chat may have inherent stressors in that there is even less information available to the PST when processing these types of events. There is no “verbal body language” and the context of the message may have to be interpreted by the 911 PST in a vacuum-in their mind’s eye so to speak. For example “Please send help, this is an emergency” as a text–what does that mean exactly?

    ■ What precautions or parameters should policy makers consider when designing the dispatcher’s interface with NG911?

    Policy makers should consider educating the general public as to the capabilities and also the limitations of NG911–especially as the technology evolves. For example, currently, if your PSAP can accept text messaging for 911, do you have a location of the person texting so that a response can be sent if they cannot provide their location? Probably not.

    Policy makers should work with the appropriate SME’s to monitor the potential impacts of NG911 as they are implemented within their respective agencies. Prior to implementation, the end users-911 PST’s-should have the opportunity to not only train to the level of efficiency with the technology, but also have frank and open discussion about the potential negative (and positive) impacts of the technology.

    Policy makers should identify and allocate funding measures dedicated to promotion and maintenance of mental (as well as physical) health and wellness. Forewarned is forearmed–if the PST’s are aware of what the “red flags” of stress are, and what is to be expected as far as stressors (their internal reactions to NG911 environments) then this may help them cope and survive within the industry. In addition, mental health professionals should be integrated into every 911 center to the degree that they are aware of the scope and nature of the 911 PST work is, and also can be a resource for education and PRN counseling/therapy.

    What will also be key is to establish aptitude and personality testing standards to better ensure that those who enter the 911 PST industry have the capacity to be successful.

    Also, policy makers should be cautioned on avoiding implementing untested technologies (just because we can does not mean we always should) because of what is at stake if the “bleeding edge” technology is not effective.

    ■ What ethical responsibility does the government have for the care of dispatchers expected to do NG911 dispatching via texting and real time video given these concerns, i.e., should NG911 funds be allocated for formal research on predicted increased health risks, to assure healthy design of the NG911 ”human/machine interface”, and to provide for education/training,
    and Employee assistance (EAP treatment provision)?

    Unsure if the government should take on the ethical responsibility as much as the industry needs to advise the government about how to take into account the ethical responsibilities for consideration. Just like there are large scale testing exercises for evaluating NG911 technologies and how they integrate, where the leading industry vendors participate in a forum that is overseen by NENA, there should be similar events, funded by the industry or the FCC where health risks, human machine interface, EAP and similar topics are discussed by the appropriate SME’s and best practices and standards generated. There should be initial research into the current environment of the PSAP as it relates to technology integration and the 911 PST’s and then on-going monitoring could be implemented with the initial study results utilized as a baseline.

    • Jim Marshall says:

      Jim:
      Thanks much for offering these strong insights about NG911. As you know, the Foundation is just getting started and we have yet to promote the site widely until more work is done in establishing our non-profit status. Still we want to build awareness of NG911 not to alarm but to inform, and to engage all 911 stakeholders in the kind of thoughtful dialog which your comments exemplify. So, again, thanks for taking the time to think so carefully through your answers to the questions above!

    • 911wellness says:

      Jim:
      Thanks much for offering these strong insights about NG911. As a comm center leader who has also sat at the “hotseat” as a frontline PST (Public Safety Telecommunicator) you have an awareness of these risks based in experience that is critical for 911 policy makers to learn from. Similar to my comment to “Cynthia” from Plymouth, MI above, the potential risks of NG911 have not occurred to policy makers not because they don’t care about dispatchers but more likely because such insight would require either psychological expertise or the direct experience you’ve had. As you know, that’s why we’re joining forces to launch the Foundation–not to alarm folks but to inform all 911 stakeholders, and to engage them in the kind of thoughtful dialog which your comments exemplify. So, again, thanks for taking the time to reflect so carefully on the questions above! Your role as one of the Foundation’s co-founders is vital. So keep taking care of yourself. We need you!

  2. Cynthia Fell says:

    ■ In your opinion, while we know that susceptibility to traumatization varies by individual, would you predict that overall dispatcher stress, emotional labor, and potential for traumatization will increase? Why/ how so?

    Trauma has the potential to increase if the expansions of job duties are not dealt with diligently. It is common place that duties are added to the job of police dispatcher without consideration to the impact to the dispatcher as a human being. The dispatcher is seen as the facilitator of communication, the one who answers the phone, just a means to the end.

    As a nation we have to recognize that the police dispatcher is the first set of eyes (NG911) and ears on the scene. Those of us behind the headset will now see things that we are not trained to see, things that the brain is not programmed to immediately understand. We are to do all this, and carry on, take the next call, and try to help save the next life.

    ■ What precautions or parameters should policy makers consider when designing the dispatcher’s interface with NG911?

    The precautions or parameters that police makers should consider must begin with an emphasis on stress management techniques, training, and participation. Participation begins with the process of making certification guidelines. Subject matter experts within the field can provide insight into the real requirements of the position and a directed trajectory that the career path should follow.

    Training should be at regular intervals, constantly checking in with 911 professionals, updating their knowledge base. Lastly, and most importantly, an emphasis should be placed on arming the employees with stress management techniques. These techniques should be trained so heavily that they are second nature.

    ■ What ethical responsibility does the government have for the care of dispatchers expected to do NG911 dispatching via texting and real time video given these concerns, i.e., should NG911 funds be allocated for formal research on predicted increased health risks, to assure healthy design of the NG911 ”human/machine interface”, and to provide for education/training,
    and Employee assistance (EAP treatment provision)?

    Funds should absolutely be allocated for research. The implementation of NG911 has the potential to have life changing effects on police dispatchers, immediately upon implementation. We can not afford the luxury of allowing this to play out, and stumble across the consequences as they arise.

    Research can assist in the healthy design of NG911, along with the proper preparation of the police dispatcher.

    • 911wellness says:

      Cynthia:
      Thanks so much for taking your time to respond to these questions. Increasingly as I work within the 911 community and reflect on why dispatchers have not been provided with the training they need to care for their stress, I am struck by this: nearly all the 911 leaders I have met since 2005 are genuinely caring and concerned about their PSAP employees. There has just been such an honest lack of knowledge about the dangers of 911 stress among local and national 911 leaders that the priority on training in this area has been lacking. Your recommendations, if honored, could lead to really significant improvements. We need to hear from our frontline dispatchers and our working supervisors like you to help leaders see the real picture of life in the PSAP. The more we pair education on stress with the stories from those of you who live in the “hotseat” the greater the awareness among our leaders who can bring about the needed changes. Keep speaking up. We’re listening! And please urge your fellow 911 Pros to do the same. The belief that they can’t make a difference is untrue and is in intself our greatest obstacle to achieving the Foundation’s goals. We can do this! Take good care of yourself.
      Jim Marshall

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