How Did 2021 PSAP Wellness Predictions Hold Up?

Woman in glasses high fiving another person.

By: Aly Pickett

In 2021, Zetron surveyed emergency communications professionals during major public safety communications events in North America, including the NENA and APCO annual conferences, then used the response data to publish predictions for 2022 public safety answering point (PSAP) wellness trends.

In 2023 we’ve conducted a follow-up survey with public safety professionals on a variety of wellness topics to see how the predictions have faired, including whether they felt their leadership cared about their wellness, if their center had experienced labor shortages, if centers were utilizing peer support programs, supporting continued education, and more.

Using the new data, we evaluated each of the predictions and graded them as hits or misses based on whether the new data supported the 2021 predictions or not. So, without further ado, let’s see how the predictions held up!

Infographic Image 2021 Survey Prediction: Enhanced Safety Protocols

In the 2021 survey, 98% of respondents reported that their PSAP was implementing at least one, and as many as seven, new safety, health or hygiene models to protect their employees. This “safety in layers” approach included everything from cleaning and sanitization to remote work options, flexible scheduling and other safety initiatives.

So the prediction was we would see continued health screenings, such as temperature checks, rapid testing, masking policies, and social distancing, all of which would prevail throughout 2022. Additionally, work-from-home options would continue to rise and become more accepted.

From the 2023 Survey

We asked survey participants “Is your center currently still engaging in any of the safety protocols established in 2020?

Many reported that their centers stopped engaging in safety protocols established in 2020. Of those surveyed 36.75% said their centers weren’t still using safety protocols. While those that answered yes or somewhat to centers still using protocols barely edged out the no’s at 38.66%.

Out of the respondents who shared the steps they were still taking in their center, approximately 25% were still using a multi-layer approach with an average of two-to-three actions. Some safety initiatives still being used include cleaning, spacing, temperature screenings, personal protective equipment (PPE) requirements, wellness programs, peer support groups, remote work and some changes to policy and procedure when answering calls.

Cleaning or disinfecting equipment and stations between uses is still the number one safety action in use; 60% of the safety protocols continued from 2020 were related to sanitization.

Prediction Result: Miss

While many centers have dropped safety protocols, we still see plenty going strong nationwide in emergency communication centers (ECCs). This prediction missed because 75% of ECCs amongst those surveyed are not still using the multi-layer approach as predicted.

The next question is, will we see safety protocols ramp up again with reports of COVID being back on the rise?

Prediction: Supply Chain Disruptions and Labor Shortages Will Have Major Impact

The second prediction was that supply chain disruptions would have a major impact on equipment, causing prices to rise. Compounding with this, labor shortages would be the most detrimental to the industry.

Prior statistics referenced in 2021 suggested that labor shortages had increased wages by 20-30% in some regions.

From the 2023 Survey

We asked survey participants, “Has your center been experiencing labor shortages or staffing issues over the past year?”

An overwhelming majority of ECCs reported they had experienced labor shortages or staffing issues, with 73.49% expressing it has come up at their center. An additional 16.27% of respondents indicated their center had experienced labor and staffing issues at least somewhat over the past two years.

Prediction Result: Hit

Labor and staffing challenges continue to plague the public safety industry and telecommunicators, in particular, with centers across the country competing to fill vacancies. The work telecommunicators do is crucial but often undervalued, considering the stress that can come with the job. Many states, such as Missouri, are moving in the right direction by finally classifying telecommunicators as first responders, allowing them access to state-funded mental health resources.

Unfortunately, with labor shortages continuing, this prediction was a hit.

Prediction: Peer Support Programs or Groups for the Public Safety Industry

It was our hope in 2021 that the industry would continue to focus on wellness and peer support. In 2021, 59% of respondents shared that their centers had implemented peer support programs of various forms. Some were smaller, involving once-a-month group talk sessions, but others engaged in larger, more elaborate programs with trained peer support leads.

The remaining responses were 24% reporting no programs were in place, and the final 18% reporting their center may somewhat participate in programs or they didn’t know.

From the 2023 Survey

We asked survey participants, “Has your center implemented, utilized, or supported any peer support systems or programs since 2021?

Just slightly more than half of those surveyed indicated their ECC had implemented, utilized or supported peer support programs in the past two years, with an additional 16.27% sharing their center had implemented, utilized or supported peer support programs to at least SOME degree. Results indicated that 25.30% of respondents did not believe their center had implemented any programs, and 6.6% didn’t know the answer.

Prediction Result: Miss

In comparison, between 2021 and 2023, the numbers are at approximately the same place with some minor differences. There was a slight uptick in respondents sharing their center did not have or support a peer support program, while the number of respondents who expressed they had a program dropped approximately 8%, with much of these numbers seeming to shift into the ‘not sure’ category. Unless some centers cancelled existing programs, the lesson here may be that there is room for greater internal communication about available resources.

With no significant change, this prediction is a miss for now.

Prediction: Flexibility Will Reign

In 2021 the data indicated team members would begin to operate consistently with the expectation that they have in-person and virtual/remote options available to them. Flexible scheduling would be a must in a post-covid world. In addition, the prediction was that flexibility would go beyond the in-house experience, with directors and leadership needing to be flexible as the workforce changes. Backup plans would be essential, and in the 2021 survey, we found that 93% of those surveyed indicated their center had backup plans in place.

From the 2023 Survey

We asked survey participants, “Has your center started offering or continued to offer any scheduling flexibility since 2021?

65.66% of respondents indicated they had been offered at least some flexibility in scheduling since 2021. Work flexibility might consist of varying schedules or working from home versus in the office.

Still, 33.13% of ECCs have yet to offer their employees scheduling flexibility. This lower number could be related to the immense staffing shortages, but it also could be causing staffing challenges. Employees want flexibility in their schedules and working environment; therefore, they may choose a position where flexibility is an option over a job with more rigidity.

Prediction Result: Hit

A majority answered that their center offers scheduling flexibility to some degree. This popular response suggests that the predictions were valid, and that flexibility has remained an important topic for public safety professionals.

Scheduling flexibility is likely to remain essential in the coming years. Still, the question of how feasible it can be with labor shortages may hold some centers back from embracing flexible scheduling options fully.

Prediction: Public Safety Industry Focus on Continued Education

The final prediction in 2021 centered on continued education in public safety. New certifications would help bolster knowledge and allow professionals to gain new skills. We hoped there would be a spike in education surrounding staff and supervisors, specifically an influx of new ENPs.

From the 2023 Survey

We asked survey participants, “Has your center promoted and/or offered support for continued education for team members since 2021?

To this question, 77.17% of those surveyed answered yes – their center had promoted or offered support to continued education within their teams. Additionally, 10.84% responded somewhat, while not an outright yes; this indicates these centers had advertised or provided support for continued education to some degree. The percentage who said no was only 10.24%, minimal by comparison.

Prediction Result: Hit

Despite the challenges with labor over the past two years, an impressive number of centers supported continued education. Supporting continued education is an excellent way for ECCs and leadership to demonstrate how much they care about their employees through investing time, budget, or both into employee growth and improvement. With a large majority answering yes, this prediction was a hit.

Bonus Data: Does Leadership Care About Wellness?

Back in 2021, our PSAP survey asked respondents if they felt their leadership cared about their wellness. 82% of those surveyed answered yes, showing that the majority believed their leadership cared. 10% of those surveyed at the time felt their leadership cared at least somewhat about their wellness, and 8% answered no, they did not feel they were cared for.

From the 2023 Survey

Two years later, 72.19% of those surveyed felt leadership continued to demonstrate that they care about their employee’s wellness. 18.34% answered that they think their leadership has at least shown some care for their wellness, and 8.28% felt they are not cared for at all.

Most of the shift we’ve seen went from yes to somewhat, with the percentage who answered no remaining relatively steady. The percentage shift from yes to somewhat may result from the pandemic settling down and having less impact on day-to-day lives. As the world tries to regain normalcy, losing sight of wellness initiatives and falling into pre-pandemic standards can be easy. However, the pandemic made it clear that public safety industry wellness and general employee wellness need to be worked on and prioritized to maintain operations across the globe.

We hope to see continued focus on wellness initiatives in the coming years; the hardworking individuals in public safety deserve to be valued and cared for in exchange for their incredible work for their communities.

Have predictions of your own for the future of the public safety industry? Or do you feel one of our hits or misses needs to be re-evaluated? Let us know in the comments below!

View the infographic laying out the 2023 results here.

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