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, firstname.lastname@example.org or call 231.881.1434.