Policy and Advocacy

IN THIS SECTION…

  • An  Introduction to 911WF’s Policy and Advocacy work including our premise, background, specific concerns for which policy initiatives may be required, and proposed steps of inquiry related to optimizing management of NG911 stressors.
  • References to articles by 911WF leaders or 911 stakeholders offered to inform our readers about policy issues and proposals related to the pursuit of 911 Wellness.

Introduction: 

Policy development is the second stream of work at the heart of the Foundations’ mission to foster optimal health and peak performance of 911 telecommunicators.

We recognized that no organization has yet been dedicated singularly to the ongoing assessment of stressors in the 911 work environment and to advocating policies that would assure protection of dispatchers from the psychologically hazardous working conditions of the 911 center.  Our policy involvement is driven by seeking the answers to two key working questions from the perspective of the mental health expert:

  • “How does the work of the emergency telecommunication affect the health (mental and physical) of the dispatcher?
  • What can be done to minimize work-related stress impacts and optimize 911 workplace conditions to promote health?”

Examples of our activities include:

  • Contributing Subject Matter Expertise to the National Emergency Number Association in creation of a new standard assuring the implementation of Comprehensive Stress Managment Programs for all PSAP personnel
  • Working with local 911 professionals, NENA, and officials of the Federal Communication Commission, other goverment agencies, and SMEs (subject matter experts) to influence the shape of the Next Generation 911 PSAP. This means offering public comment to proposed Rules Promulgation (see below), offering language/recommendations for rules to asure that full consideration will be given to the impacts of stress on the dispatcher’s health and performance. “
  • Informing all 911 stakeholders of the psychological and other health risks facing public safety telecommunicators, to assure their optimal health and performance of these workers as Next Generation 911 is implemented.

What is Next Generation 911? It is the capacity for 911 centers to respond to callers contacting 911 via texting, real time video (multimedia) photos, and other “emerging technologies”.

Here’s the update: On October 12, 2011 the Federal Register published the  NPRM (Notice of Proposed Rule Making) on NG911, submitted by the Federal Communication Commission. The FCC wrote this NPRM to expedite implementation of NG911 and invite comment from all 911 stakeholders assuring that the launch of NG911 would be wisely designed and effective. Other government agencies with key roles in 911 oversight, and the National Emergency Number Assocationon (NENA) also support expediting NG911. Why? Because the public increasingly expects to be able to access 911 via all emerging techologies including text messaging, multimedia (real time video joining audio, photography) and because these lead agencies and organizations are confident that citizens will in fact experience superior emergency response if such capabilities are possible. The Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHSTA) and the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) will join to oversee actual implementation of NG911 under the newly formed Interagency Coordination Office (ICO).

Then on December 1, 2011 congress passed legislation funding (@250 million) to fund this launch of “Next Generation 911”.  So while some PSAPs may not be online to dispatch using full NG911 capabilities for several years, others may be up and running within a year or two.

All this is good news, and the Foundation too recognizes the great potential advantages. For example, a dispatcher assisting a mother in administering CPR to her infant will surely be aided by clear visual observation of the mother’s efforts and can more effectively coach her to success. But here is our concern: imagine you are the dispatcher and you watch via real time video feed as the little child’s face turns blue and her mother begins panicking, shrieking hysterically shrieking while pleading to the dispatcher: “Oh my God, my baby, look at her; she is dying. You’ve got to save my baby!”

This is only one of many critical life-and-death moments in which PSTs (dispatchers) find themselves in any given day of work. It is hard enough to manage the intense emotional terrain of these calls without seeing the caller, but most dispatchers we’ve interviewed state that they would feel emotoinally overwhelmed by regularly experiencing suicides, homicides, domestic violence and other crises via real time video.

When our Foundation board members presented this near-future NG911 scenario to an international audience of 120 traumatologists (treatment specialists and researchers in psychological trauma)  they were uniformly incredulous: with their shared base of knowledge about traumatic stress, they were deeply concerned that the expectations placed on PSTs in an NG911 PSAP would clearly place them at high risk of traumatic stress disorders and stress-related illness.

Texting as a means of communicating with 911 about a life -threatening emergency will clearly save lives (as it certainly could have at Virginia Tech in 2009 had those capabilities existed then). Equipping 911 centers with the ability to receive texts will also help increase access to emergency services for those with disabilities including the deaf and hearing impaired. Listen and watch a YouTube video to learn more by about the NPRM and the rationale for pursuing texting capabilities by clicking here. Note: this is dry reading, but informational.

Even as this texting feature may benefit the public, the PST responsible for responding to such text calls will potentially face very significant stressors: in contrast to the stimulus overload prompting stress which in some cases may accompany real time video (and audio) with callers in crisis, dispatchers receiving “calls” by text will have the burden of making sense of limited information of vital importance transmitted at a slower rate than speech when every second counts to help save lives. How would you feel if you were the PST in such emergencies?

So, what do you think? It’s your turn to share your opinion. We’d be grateful if you’d add a post in response to this article.

Here’s the list of key questions to consider as you prepare to comment:

 “Given this explanation of what dispatchers do, and about NG911 and its emerging techologies, what concerns do you have if any, re: impacts on the mental health (and thus physical health of dispatchers related to their…
A) INTERFACE WITH CRISIS CALLERS COMMUNICATING VIA PHONE TEXTING?
B) INTERFACE WITH CALLERS COMMUNICATING VIA REAL TIME VIDEO?

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

References to articles and publications  pertaining to 911WF policy initiatives

If you have suggestions to improve this blog, or you’d like to join the Foundation, you can also send us your thoughts via email: info@911Wellness.com. Thanks again!

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