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.


Jim Marshall, Chair

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NENA Standard on Stress Management Approved! A Major Step in SafeGuarding Health of our Very First Responders…

The National Emergency Number Association (NENA) has announced that on August 6 its Executive Board approved the Standard on 911 Acute/Traumatic and Chronic Stress Management. This Standard can make a career-changing difference for our nation’s Very First Responders–the frontline 911 telecommunicators because it assures strategic provision of support that is critical to wellbeing in the face of the incredible stress of their work.  NENA’s website explains and provides a link to the full document version of this groundbreaking Standard:

“…provides for essential awareness of the serious risks posed by work-related stress on the mental and physical health of 9-1-1 emergency Telecommunicators/Dispatchers in their role as our first first responders. It establishes the “best practice” elements of local 9-1-1 comprehensive employee stress management programs and the expectation that such programs will be implemented by PSAPs.”

The Standard evidences the value placed on the person of the telecommunicator by  NENA and by the many 911 stakeholders who worked together to develop it over these past three years as authors, contributors through public comment, and informally as encouragers. Such a document stating expectations for PSAPs to provide care to their people could just be another bureaucratic imposition falling heavy on our local 911 leaders from “on High”. But this Standard is different: it was developed with remarkable, widespread support from 911 stakeholders in all capacities, beginning with our local frontliners and their leaders, inspiration from our National 911 Program Administrator Laurie Flaherty, state 911 administrators, and by the work of the Work Group that included representatives from APCO International, the International Academies of Emergency Dispatch, university researchers pioneering 911 stress research, vendors, and members of our own 911WF Board of Directors.

In June, Dee Ann Summersett (Tuscola County 911, MI), the Foundation’s Vice-Chair and Co-Chair of the NENA Working Group on Stress, presented Safeguarding the Well-Being of the 9-1-1 Professional: A New Stress Standard & Great Solutions. This was the first official introduction of the Standard to the 911 industry. Dee Ann’s presentation was well received. It detailed to 911 personnel how the Standard will help to boost health, performance, and retention in our centers through resilience training, trauma treatment, peer support, CISM, and more!

The 911 Wellness Foundation (WF) was established in part to help advance this Standard and we will be offering support to NENA and our local 911 personnel to assure success in the work of building the Comprehensive Stress Management Programs (CSMP) it calls for. Click here to view the PDF of this presentation, email 911wellness@live.com.

The Standard represents a solid foundation upon which so much more vital work must be done together by all 911 stakeholders. Far more education, research, policy and intervention will need to advance the cause of understanding the risks to health posed by 911 work and creating the solutions that will “safeguard” their well-being as the industry moves forward  in its constant service to the public. 911WF is dedicated to coming along all 911 stakeholders to accomplish this mission, and we need your help.

Please consider what role you might take, whether volunteering on projects, as a member of our Council on Subject Matter Experts (CoSME), just informally offering ideas and input, or helping us seek much needed funding. Join us on this exciting and very rewarding journey! Everyone of us who benefits from calling 911 gains by investing in the Very First Responder.  I welcome your email and invite you to offer your comments in response to this and any article on this blog. To view or download the PDF version of the Approved NENA Standard, click here.

Thanks much for taking time to join us, and be WELL!

Jim Marshall, 911WF Chair/CEO

Co-Chair, NENA Working Group on 911 Stress


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Local 911 Leaders Standing Up for 911 Wellness

Is your PSAP going “Strategic” in fostering Wellness? Research from many industries support the savings– in dollars per reduced absenteeism & medical leaves and increased retention– that result from such efforts. And in the past 6 months I’ve had the delight to learn about and lend fuel to some great model efforts put forth by PSAPs around the country to build local 911 wellness programs. This interest and involvment helps fufill the mission of the 911 Wellness Foundation by advancing these exemplary efforts. In this post we introduce a few stories of these Leaders in 911 Wellness. Hopefully these stories will inspire more PSAPs to join the “early adapters” in strategically promoting 911 Wellness. Enjoy!

911 Wellness Leaders, Story 1: Colorado PSAP takes on “Sitting Disease”. A few months ago I received a call from a 911 leader eager to share her PSAP’s commitment to building a local 911 Wellness Program and seeking the Foundation’s help in its design. They were aware that the National Emergency Number Association (NENA) would soon put in force its new Standard on Acute, Traumatic and Chronic Stress Management and these leaders expressed their intent to build a Comprehensive Stress Management Program as proposed in this NENA Standard.

As a first step, they wanted to create a program to prevent “Sitting Disease”–the set of risks for obesity, stroke, heart disease and other health problems which research now correlates with Sedentary Behavior. Since that first conversation we have joined to  study what current research can teach us about the prevention of sitting disease, beginning with the report published on December 12, 2013 by the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition: Too Much Sitting: Health Risks for Sedentary Behaviour and Opportunities for Change (Click here to read and download the full report.)  While researchers cannot yet confidently prescribe the best activities leading to prevention, this Colorado 911 center and 911WF are committed to building a pilot project based on the best that current knowledge can teach us.

This project can be revised and refined as more is learned. It’s a good initial effort that will likely lower health risks among this PSAP’s employees and give them evidence that they valued by their leaders, thus boosting morale.  This pilot project can also offer a template others can build on and adapt to fit local center characteristics and in accord with new information about Sitting Disease and its prevention.We’ll reveal the identify of this pioneering PSAP and offer an update as the project unfolds.

911 Wellness Leaders, Story 2: A Wisconsin Center Redesigns the EAP to include EMDR Trauma Treatment. As part of their commitment to prevention of stress-related illness and problems in their PSAP, Madison Wisconsin leaders John Dejung and Gary Bell (now director of Wakesha 911) invited me to conduct training in management of traumatic stress. But this was only one point of their plan to equip their personnel for wellness in the face of 911 stressors. They also were working to develop a ground-breaking Employee Assistance Program (EAP)–one that would not only cover costs of initial mental health counseling for their people but also assure this treatment was provided as needed by licensed professionals specializing in traumatic stress and trained in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR, click here for more information).

EMDR is one of only three treatments in the world recognized by the U.S. Department of Defense as effective in the treatment of PTSD and is recognized by the 911 Wellness Foundation as a treatment of choice for 911 traumatic stress. (Full disclosure: I receive no remuneration in any form for promoting EMDR. I was trained in EMDR in 1990 and have used it regularly in my clinical practice since then with much gratitude and with great results. ) To date, the only other PSAP in the U.S. to seek such involvement of EMDR therapists in their EAP is Charleston, S.C. for which we commend Director Jim Lake and Deputy Director Allyson Burrell. In addition, the Madison 911 center is working to assure availability Critical Incident Stress Management also within their EAP, and Peer Support services for all their employees.

911 Wellness Leader, Story 3: “Psychological First Aid” Coming for local 911 Pros? Another effort which will remain “in cognito’ since its in the early stages involves a PSAP exploring pursuit of training for their 911Pros in “Psychological First Aid” (PFA) to boost in-house mental health after the worst calls/events. This specific lay-intervention model for first responders originated with the Australian Red Cross. (NOTE: featuring this intervention model does not imply 911WF preference for it over others such as ICISF’s CISM model. We seek to educate the industry about all viable resources that may help prevent traumatic stress within the 911 Workforce.) To read and download the full booklet on PFA click here).

Early adapters throughout the U.S. (beyond our 911 centers) are optimistic that by teaching their personnel to understand mental health struggles among employees and peers they can identify and get help earlier leading to prevention of diseases that impact their well-being, performance, and retention. Early research supports the value of Psychological First Aid and it represents a promising resource for 911 personnel. While the Foundation continues to study models for similar support applauds this PSAP’s pioneering initiative exploring how PFA can help their people, and invites you to learn more about it too.

The effort put forth by these three PSAPs are not featured as “One Size Fits All” solutions for implementation by other centers, especially small PSAPs in rural areas. Rather, the examples provided by these centers can inspire local initiatives to embrace and deliver Comprehensive Stress Management Programs that fit the resources and specific needs of each PSAP. The 911 Wellness Foundation is all about fostering local equipping to prevent illness and promote optimal health among our 911 telecommunicators. One of the best ways we can achieve this mission is to tell the story of frontrunners and bridge the rest of our PSAPs to them for support. So, by all means, if you and your center are taking innovative steps to advance the psychological or physical well-being of your 911Pros, please email me so we can cheer you on, offer support, and when you’re ready, tell your story to the bigger 911 family. Every 911 stakeholder benefits when we take proactive care of the Very First Responder. So, we’re truly all in this together. Thanks for taking time to read this blog. Your reply is encouraged!

Jim Marshall, Chair


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To Citizens Offering Encouragement to “Battle-weary” 911 Pros: Thank You!

Recently our blog has received much more consistent and frequent comments from folks beyond 911 recognizing the critical role that 911 professionals have in our nation’s emergency response system. There seems to be a growing recognition of how stressful this work can be. That is truly heartening since such increasing support for 911 can help re-energize and encourage 911Pros, including those who may have grown weary and battle-fatigued in the line of duty over the years. While most 911 telecommunicators do not demand or seek public recognition for the work they do, all emergency responders and those who serve in the face of crisis nearly daily, naturally need to know from those they serve that it matters.

Usually when we examine the factors leading to the low retention rates threatening many of our 911 centers, we don’t assess the extent to which low levels of recognition may contribute. While I am not blaming retention problems on this factor, the very nature of 911 work means facing many sad and tragic endings despite having done all the dispatcher could, with excellence. So when citizens take the time to write and show that they “get it” (the emotional toll 911 work can take) such an effort may provide just the boost a heavy-hearted “Very-First Responder” needs to stay on the saddle. So please know your words shared on our blog are not wasted. In behalf of the 911 Wellness Foundation, THANK YOU!

Jim Marshall, Chair                                                                                                                             911 Wellness Foundation Board of Directors

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Looking Beyond 911 Education Month: Encouraged and Much to Do!

With so many 911 leaders rushing about this spring overseeing new CAD installs, planning with city and county government, while tuckered-out frontliners  work overtime, and 911 educators like me travel from one 911 destination to the next–and while all of us juggle such important work caring for our families’ needs, it would be good to stop for a big collective deep breathto pause, and to affirm our best intentions to continue advancing 911 wellness beyond April and the well-deserved celebration of NTW and 911 Education Month.

The 911 Wellness Foundation is grateful that on several fronts, members of APCO, NENA, our federal government leaders, local PSAP members, and university researchers are joining to increase their involvement in projects upholding this cause. 911WF is just one party among so many that have increased prioritization of the issues the Foundation exists to uphold. As I write this, researchers from Washington state and Illinois are pursuing ground-breaking studies on the risks faced by 911Pros now and predictably in the Next Generation 911 Center. PSAPs are stepping forward implementing model Wellness Programs addressing the mental, physical and spiritual well-being of their telecommunicators.

And the NENA Standard on 911 Acute/Traumatic and Chronic Stress will soon take effect, paving the way for widespread implementation of such wellness programs. The number of presentations on dispatcher health related to stress has increased dramatically during these past 2 years at our 911 industry association state and national conferences, and local 911 directors are actively seeking to learn all they can about how to care for their employees in the face of 911 stress risks. We will keep you posted here on all such new developments and begin featuring exemplary efforts to help all 911 stakeholders to inspire innovations in preventive education and resourcing of our PSAPs.

Thanks for taking time to read this note and for your part in helping 911WF fulfill its mission as we travel forward together into the remainder of 2013.

Let us hear from you, and join us on our 911WF FaceBook page.

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April 14-20 is National Telecommunicators Week: More than a formal thank you is in order!

This week I’ve had the privilege of spending time listening to 911 Professionals in Kansas and Wisconsin as we’ve explored their exposure to traumatic events–and how to boost resilience and preserve their quality of life in the face of these stressors. And once again I have been powerfully struck by 911Pros’ resilience, and by the enormous demands their work places on their shoulders.

Yet, to most Americans, even those who have personally been rescued in their worst moments by The Very First Responder, focus on the 911 professional fades into the background as the field responders arrive on scene. I am not stroking the proverbial violin inviting others to grab a fiddle for the Poor Me Concerto here. (But there is a symphony playing in the background of this message. So keep listening.) It is so understandable that an invisible responder who passes the torch to those on scene will be forgotten by the citizen whose vision is then filled with the officers, firefighters or paramedics who come to the rescue in full living color.  This is as it should be; yet it provides an explanation for how difficult it is for the public to grasp and sustain an awareness of the toll that 911 work takes on the emergency dispatcher–and to wonder what should be done to protect their health and retain them on our 911 workforces.

National 911 Telecommunicators Week (NTW) is an opportunity for all of us to pause, consider the invaluable role these professionals have in our lives, to wonder about the skills and emotional costs required to do this job, and to imagine what it would be like if we sat in their HotSeats managing our most tragic calls.

This NTW, why not consider calling your local police, sheriff or 911 agency’s non-emergency line to say thank you to your local 911 professionals? This special week can also serve as a time for 911 frontliners and supervisors to affirm their appreciation of each other–including the PSAP (Public Safety Answering Point) Quality Assurance staffers who must listen repeatedly to the worst calls as a “routine” part of their jobs. Can you say Vicarious Traumatization?

Yet, credit and gratitude are also due to the 911 communication center managers and directors who are expected to go in umpteen directions seamlessly serving all parties within and beyond the PSAP. Picture the 911 leader as the classic Gumby toy with both rubber arms stretched long by the essential requests of their dispatchers, governing board members, other emergency response agencies, and by the demands of media during those worst events.

When all is said and done, the work that all members of our 911 centers do to produce consistently excellent 24/7/365 response is nothing short of extraordinary. Have you ever marveled at a great symphony orchestra whose many members can draw unified sound from a hundred instruments, translating written notes into remarkable harmonies and melody? If we then reflect on our 911 “system” we can see a parallel: The notable difference is that the Orchestra performs under ideal conditions for our pleasure for a few hours while 911 professionals offer up typically seamless and constant intervention that helps save lives every day of the year.

Finally, if we are to connect all the dots in this constellation of players in the 911 Response Family, we will also salute the National 911 Program Office, the state chapters and headquarters’ staffs of APCO–the Association of Public-safety Communication Officials, and NENA–the National Emergency Number Association, the IAED–the International Academies of Emergency Dispatch, and the many quality “vendors” who serve the industry. Together these 911 stakeholders work hard to equip our local 911 professionals for best practice through their leadership, development of educational resources, standards, emergency response protocols, support services, and state-of-the-art technologies.

Thank you all for your service to our country. We owe more than we realize to you! And we pledge to uphold your health and quality of life the best we can in the next year!

Jim Marshall

For the Board of Directors, 911 Wellness Foundation                                       http://www.911Wellness.com

NOTE: permission to republish this article is granted without restriction by the author

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Visit our Facebook page…and a Striking Article from U.S. News and World Report: Dispatchers among the most underpaid

In his brief article The 10 Most Underpaid Jobs (3.21.13) Rick Newman identifies 911 dispatchers as among those professions whose salaries are not in accord with the service and value they contribute to society. I offer the link to the article below. I shared a post at the U.S.News site and encourage your Replies there. My emphasis in sharing this is not to focus on evaluating the question of fair compensation, but the primary issue the article points us to: the need to recognize the real levels of “Emotional Labor” dispatchers perform in the line of a duty so crucial to the well-being of our country’s infrastructure and our personal lives. Enjoy this link: http://www.usnews.com/news/blogs/rick-newman/2013/03/21/the-10-most-underpaid-jobs

Why 911 Wellness Foundation has launched its own Facebook Page…

First a confession. I am not an avid Facebooker…yet. But that may change now that 911WF has its own page: I can see the enormous value of creating a living room of sorts in which 911 professionals and other 911 stakeholders come to enjoy conversation to inspire, learn, share humor, and to help advance our shared mission to foster the well-being of 911Pros in the face of ever-increasing stress at the console. Articles like Rick Newman’s also become fresh food we can sit at the table to digest, deepening and extending our essential dialog supporting the Foundation’s efforts. A special thanks to our FB Administrator,–911 Professional Tracey Geary!

Hope you will join us!

Jim Marshall


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