The Zetron Blog: Z-Wire
Interoperable communications in public safety and emergency response are essential in our increasingly complex world and how we communicate. With communities having multiple police, fire, and medical jurisdictions, it’s become even more vital they’re able to communicate for the safety of the community and the responders. Add in layers of other government agencies, schools, hospitals, event venues, who also need to communicate and share information in real-time, making having highly interoperable communications even all the more important. Without real-time communication, crisis management in public safety can be greatly hindered. The ability to work with multiple agencies on different systems using different radios, but still share real-time information and data to coordinate efforts is the pinnacle of interoperability. Efforts to achieve this have improved since the inception of the Department of Homeland Security’s Project SAFECOM in 2001, which expanded interoperability from technical aspects, such as equipment patching, to also include procedural elements. Despite Homeland Security grants made available after September 11, 2001, that encouraged interoperability, some agencies still don’t have the capability to do it all. Interoperable Communications Support Safety of Responders and the Community Consider a large-scale catastrophic event, such as a hurricane, flood, terrorist activity, or an active shooter situation. While not as frequent, this is precisely when first responders must be able to share information and data in real-time, to not only keep themselves safe in times of crisis, but also provide safety for surrounding communities. Having this capability enables information to be delivered faster across multiple agencies and jurisdictions so a coordinated responses can be effectively planned and executed. There have been many past events that are good examples where interoperable communications would have greatly improved the situation. A flooding event along the Ohio River that had federal, state and local agencies all responding to help, without a way to share information quickly, so responders literally had to yell at one another across flooded areas. In another circumstance where compatible communications would have saved time, an ambulance drove around an area for three minutes looking for a wounded officer as another officer on scene worked to relay precise location instructions through their respective communications centers. Interoperability Through Long-Term Planning and Purchasing Large capital purchases require planning, not only for the installation and integration, but also for budgeting and purchasing. Interoperability has been encouraged through grant funding and other programs on several levels of government since September 11, 2001. Some urban areas have also created multi-agency groups devoted to interoperability to include communications, training, and procedures. Interoperability planning should also include other agencies, jurisdictions, mutual aid providers and stakeholders. Non-agency stakeholders, such as schools, hospitals, event spaces and others who potentially need interoperable communications during a crisis should be included in planning. Regional planning not only adopts a common plan, but also provides shared training opportunities and the ability to shape policies and procedures to guide future interoperability. Interoperable Communications Provide Continuity of Service and Shared Resources The need for interoperability in larger scale incidents is often what’s most talked about, yet it’s equally as important in the regular day-to-day public safety operations that require multi-agency collaboration, such as a fire department requesting police response, structural fires requiring responding units from neighboring communities, vehicle chases across jurisdictional boundaries, and bringing another agency onto a call for help or service. Interoperable communications allow for more cooperation and coordination and remove the need for manually or sequentially passing information between communications centers or incident commands, saving time and resources. According to an interoperability guide by the US Department of Homeland Security, 90% of first responders’ interoperability usage comes from more day-to-day situations. Interoperability of communications technology and radio language allows continuity of service, even if field units are communicating with a different communications center or incident command. Normalizing interoperability through communications ensures users are familiar with the equipment, procedures and plain language needed when sharing information. Interoperable Communications, Interoperable People Efficiently handling crisis situations of any size, type, and duration requires having all involved parties and systems on the same page. When talking about interoperable communications in a critical capacity, we’re often describing the desired state of the technology being used to communicate. Fair, because the desired and actual states of interoperability between the systems used in public safety are often quite disparate. Ultimately, interoperability is really the desired state of the people responding in time of need. The real time and secure dissemination of information across technology is simply a means to that end. Unfortunately, getting the technology truly interoperable is often anything but simple. By: Tom Giles Want to know about new posts? Subscribe today and receive periodic alerts on what’s new on the Zetron Z-wire blog!
According to the National Fire Protection Association, 70 firefighters died in the line of duty in 2021, with the largest share of those deaths occurring because of cardiac arrests during high stress events. Every loss is a tragedy for the affected families, colleagues, and communities. Every loss is a call to improve the tools, policies, and procedures implemented for use in life-threatening situations. Mission critical voice enables first responders to be heard no matter where they are. But what about responders who are unable to reach their radios because they’re tending to a victim or colleague? Or what if they’re incapacitated? Sadly, there are many nightmarish situations where a first responder simply cannot speak. So, while being heard is obviously critical to the success and safety of first responders and those they serve, these scenarios highlight how being seen can be just as important. Knowing the locations of deployed first responders allows dispatchers to make well-informed decisions based upon specific details, such as a responder’s proximity to their colleagues, victims, and hazards – all of which can contribute to their levels of physical and mental stress. Decisions like prioritizing the evacuation of a firefighter that’s known to be inside a burning building, but whose location hasn’t changed in a period time, can save lives and prevent further tragedy. Location Reporting Standards The Dingell Act, signed into law in March 2019, covers a wide range of subjects related to the management of U.S. natural resources. The bill incorporates over 100 different pieces of legislation, one of which is a requirement for wildland firefighting agencies to operate a tracking system that remotely locates the positions of fire resources. Since then, numerous pilot projects have been undertaken to design, deploy, and test various wireless location tracking solutions. Although the bill refers to firefighters specifically, it’s easy to scale these requirements to other agencies, such as law enforcement, emergency services, and search and rescue. It’s especially important for inter-agency responses to large-scale events and disasters. The Dingell Act Resource Tracking (DART) system identified numerous requirements for an effective communications solution that enables location tracking over traditional land mobile radio (LMR) bearers. As with many P25 systems, interoperability is an important concern that impacts the choice of subscribers, infrastructure, and a computer aided dispatch (CAD) solution. The entire solution, from responder to dispatcher, must be fully interoperable to maintain full situational awareness during incidents. Many location reporting standards already exist, such as NMEA 0183 for GPS message formatting, and P25 Tier 1/Tier 2 Location Services for packet handling. Although these standards exist, they must be fully integrated into a solution to enable end-to-end transmission and reception of location data. Some vendors have built their own proprietary solutions, but they’re often limited to specific handhelds and CAD products. A truly effective solution is one that includes highly customizable interfaces to work with almost any combination of GPS-enabled subscribers and CAD systems. What Do You Need in A Location Service? Some important questions that need to be asked and answered when deciding on a location services solution are: – Do your P25 subscriber units support P25 Tier 1 or Tier 2 Location Services? – Does your P25 network already support the transmission of GPS data, or do you need to add additional hardware? – Does your dispatch solution add value to your location data through tools like interactive maps, geo-fencing, dynamic talk-group assignment, and more? – How important is it to have a solution that is affordable, scalable, and free of proprietary technologies that enforce vendor lock-in? Some agencies simply need the capability to view deployed assets on an interactive, virtual map, such as Google Maps or OpenStreetMap. Other agencies may extend those capabilities to enable things like geo-fencing and dynamic talk group assignment. Whatever your requirements, the ability to collect first responder location data that’s usable by your CAD system provides the foundation of the entire solution. Consider how your existing P25 network can help you achieve compliance with the Dingell Act; even if compliance isn’t mandatory, the knowledge, principles, and technologies can be used to easily implement location tracking in your network and significantly improve the safety of your first responders. Be Heard and Be Seen By: Robert Kwapisz Want to know about new posts? Subscribe today and receive periodic alerts on what’s new on the Zetron Z-wire blog!
No matter the mission of your organization, success likely depends on the people performing critical operational communications. And because your agency doesn’t operate in a vacuum, it’s never a good idea to make decisions in one either. Simply put, whether you’re updating your communications equipment, integrating a new records management system, or test driving the latest asset tracking platform, you should always incorporate end user feedback in your evaluation and purchase plans. Why? Because no one will better understand the strengths, weaknesses, impacts and must-have capabilities of these systems better than the people that will be using them daily. Besides understanding what works and what doesn’t during real life operations, end users can inject valuable insight into the process and help your organization remain flexible, effective and efficient. What can your agency stand to gain from end user inclusion? Let’s have a look. Operational Insights Of course, technology-driven monitoring and analytics programs can help you assess trends and anticipate obstacles. However, most systems depend solely on hard data. That said, to truly deliver informed actionable results, numbers and data typically need to be assessed and assimilated by people to empower actual intelligence. Just like knowledge translated without facts often equates to logic-based opinions, numbers without context provide you with little more than informative guesses. In contrast, your frontline workforce can bridge the distance and share both the evidence and understanding needed to make sound operational decisions. When it comes to choosing a technology-based solution, there’s no better source of information than the people you depend on every day to keep your organization’s processes, programs, and outputs optimized and successful. End users often know your operational infrastructure inside and out, can identify which functions or features will improve productivity and why built-in contingencies and controls are necessary to stay organized and manage capacity. Best of all, they can help eliminate costly and confusing add-on options that contribute little to no real value. Simply put, engaging with end users is a smart way to help ensure you’re maximizing your budget and fulfilling your organization’s unique mission critical needs. Industry Knowledge Wide-ranging industry knowledge is vital to helping you select the right tools and technology for the job. However, while your project team may possess in-depth organizational knowledge, purchasing committees often encompass members in lateral positions or complementary roles. In turn, experience and exposure may be derived mostly from managerial perspectives, rather than the task-level viewpoints you can expect from hands-on system users. Consequently, this rift often creates conflict during the discovery and procurement phases. Along these lines, gaining the vantage points of subject matter experts and technicians can help members define and prioritize the targets, timetables, and processes necessary for implementing a new solution. For example, let’s say your team is seeking a software program to satisfy a new industry regulation; however, the project team has limited knowledge of the intricacies and requirements surrounding this new directive. Without an in-depth understanding of the tactical challenges or operational issues this new regulation hopes to resolve, it may be difficult to research solutions, compare options, or delineate preferred outcomes. In this instance, seeking advice from an end user standpoint can help your team select the right technology while also preventing time delays, wasted efforts, or costly and unnecessary changes. Organizational Engagement Creating enthusiasm and generating organizational engagement is never an easy task. And yet, there is often a measurable buzz of excitement (and/or fear) surrounding the implementation of a new technology solution. That said, including end users in this process can help spark interest and quell anxiety from the very beginning of this endeavor. Besides ensuring all members of the organization feel appreciated and valued, soliciting user input can result in wider buy-in and fewer concerns and complaints regarding the change. Better yet, involving end users in managerial decisions can improve long-term coordination and cohesion between team members and leaders. Lessons and ideas exchanged through two way conversations are often beneficial for both sides. Aside from facilitating more transparent communications, collaborating across traditional boundaries can create cross-functional training opportunities, reenergize organizational culture, shorten learning curves, and bolster member commitment well into the future. The Bottom Line No matter what technology solution your organization’s searching for, every project team dreams of streamlined success. And while the process may seem exciting at first glance, the associated anxiety and pressure can lead to tension and frustration right out of the gate. Moreover, technology is an expensive investment. If you don’t engage end users from the start, you may find more costly updates or changes may need to be made in the future. While you may be able to customize or scale solutions and spread expenditures over time, a rash or ill-informed purchase can have a lasting negative effect on your entire operation. With that in mind, soliciting end users for their operational insights and industry knowledge can help your team ensure the decisions they make are strategically informed, mission-driven, and well supported throughout all facets of your organization. Want to know about new posts? Subscribe today and receive periodic alerts on what’s new on the Zetron Z-wire blog!
I’ve been retired now for about a year, and the time away from my career has given me time to reflect on the changes to public safety dispatching that have occurred over my nearly 50 years of involvement. It started for me in the early 1970’s when I joined the Law Enforcement Explorer post of our local rural county Sheriff’s department. At the same time, I started working for my father in his two-way radio sales and service business serving virtually all of the public safety agencies in the county. Consequently, I spent a lot of time in our local city/county dispatch centers as both a volunteer and a contractor. On top of this, two of my sisters-in-law were dispatchers in those same dispatch centers. Shortly after I graduated in the early 1980’s as an electrical engineer, I took a job with a startup company called Zetron,where I was tasked with using my public safety communications experience to help develop products for dispatch centers. In order to do that job, I was given the opportunity to visit many more dispatch centers and assess their needs. Many things have indeed changed in that time, here are just a fewhighlights from what I’ve witnessed over the years. 50 Years Ago Today A dispatcher’s role was as a “general clerk,” taking care of office paperwork, dealing with the public at the front desk, helping book prisoners, answering admin and emergency calls, and dispatching. Dispatching and Call Taking are true dedicated professions, requiring special qualifications and ongoing training. Most agencies did their own dispatching. Most agencies dispatch through a joint multiagency Emergency Communications Center (ECC). Nearly the only universal emergency number was “0” (operator) with no way of automatically identifying the caller’s number or address. 9-1-1 is now the universal national emergency number in the US and many other countries, now almost universally providing a call back number and wired/wireless caller location. Emergency calls for help as a percentage of constituents were relatively few. Emergency calls for help are relatively high due to media attention, 9-1-1 education, and the proliferation of personal cell phones. The Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) and wired alarms were the only means of citizen-to-agency calls for help. In addition to phone calls and alarms, many ECCs receive requests for help from cell, text and social media. Emergency Medical Services (EMS) consisted of on-scene basic first aid and transport by independent ambulance companies. EMS uses highly trained paramedics affiliated with local hospitals and/or fire departments. Emergency Medical Dispatch (EMD) enables call takers to talk callers through pre-EMS-arrival lifesaving procedures, such as CPR. The method of selecting a responding field unit was by the use of paper wall maps and index cards (e.g.,fire “run cards”). Responder welfare checks were up to the memory of the dispatcher. Selecting and tracking responding units is now handled by Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD). Dispatchers had to be very knowledgeable about their jurisdiction’s local geography in order to dispatch the correct units. Geographic Information Systems (GIS) provide mapping of callers and often times field units. Criminal checks were done via teletype to a state center. Local license plate checks were done from index cards. Criminal and vehicle records are via state and federal databases with CAD as the conduit. Nearly every agency had their own dedicated analog conventional Land Mobile Radio (LMR) system for communicating with field units. Dispatchers usually had to have special knowledge of the LMR system to know how to use it properly. There was no way for dispatchers to automatically know the location or ID of the calling units. These disparate systems made LMR interoperability very difficult. More than half of the agencies share use of a county-wide or state-wide trunked radio LMR system (many of the Project 25 digital), and some of them are now using prioritized cell phone services to augment their LMR system. Both solutions automatically identify for the dispatcher the calling unit’s ID, and many of them provide the calling unit’s location.These shared systems make interoperability much easier. Security of the dispatch center’s systems was managed by limiting physical access. Security of the dispatch center’s systems is highly reliant on good cybersecurity practices, covering both physical and remote network access. Agencies rely on city-wide sirens and local broadcast media for real-time mass citizen notifications. ECCs are able to use geographically targeted cell phone text, amber alerts, and broadcast EAS for mass notification. For the most part, these changes have been for the better. However, over the past 50 years there are a few things that have either not changed or have changed for the worse. Here are a few of those. 50 Years Ago Today The longevity and retention of dispatch staff was relatively lengthy. It is increasingly difficult to recruit and retain qualified dispatch personnel. Dispatcher exposure to incident trauma was somewhat mitigated by the limited communications available. Dispatchers face far more trauma exposure due to the increased use of rich media (from citizens and responders), and from the ability to receive citizen notification from virtually every location via cell phones. Also, emergency medical dispatch procedures providemore intimate contact with medical incidents. Agencies with neighboring or overlapping jurisdictions had very little data sharing. The lack of data interoperability between neighboring ECCs, agencies within the same multiagency ECC, and between systems within the ECC persists. This often requires dispatchers to perform “swivel chair” interoperability by manually transferring information between systems, or requires dispatchers to attempt to do their job with incomplete data. Agencies largely relied on outside contractors for the maintenance of their systems. ECCs, in addition to using outside contractors, usually have several support positions dedicated solely to the ECC (e.g., admins for CAD, GIS, LMR, Network/Cybersecurity). Due to the limited capabilities and complexities of the technology, the cost of equipping a dispatch center was relatively low. Due to the significantly increased capabilities and complexities of the modern day ECC, the cost of equipping a dispatch center is significantly higher. Indeed, things have changed in 50 years. Public safety agencies have inarguably improved the timeliness and accuracy of their response to the public. For the most part, citizens experiencing a medical emergency have a much better outcome. All of this despite a much higher rate of emergency calls. Much of this can be attributed to automated ECC systems that replace much of the original manual procedures. Yet staffing and system cost are bigger problems than ever. The challenge for today’s providers of ECC technology is to continue to make the call taker’s, dispatcher’s and support staff’s jobs easier through improvements in ergonomics, user interface, visualization, cross-system integration and data sharing. And today’s challenge is to help mitigate the rising costs of complex ECC systems by allowing those systems to be shared between multiple agencies within a region. Randy Richmond first joined Zetron in 1983 as an engineer and retired in 2021 after holding positions as Public Safety Engineering Manager, Call Taking Product Manager, Dispatch Product Manager, Standards & Regulatory Specialist, and Product Cybersecurity Manager. He now enjoys retired life volunteering with his local Amateur Radio Emergency Services team in North Bend, WA. By: Randy Richmond Want to know about new posts? Subscribe today and receive periodic alerts on what’s new on the Zetron Z-wire blog!
Thank you to EaseAlert™ for contributing the following guest blog post. EaseAlert™ is a state-of-the-art Fire Fighter Alerting System (FFAS) designed to reduce stress and improve efficiency for fire and EMS crews. Zetron is thrilled to partner with a company doing ground-breaking work to improve the health of firefighters. You can check out the original post on their blog here. If you’d like to learn more about EaseAlert™, we’ve included more resources at the end of this post. The first documented system of fire alerting goes back to 1658. Firefighters would patrol the city streets armed with buckets and ladders, searching for the telltale signs of fire. Should they happen upon a fire, they would ring their bells and shout warnings to the local community. It was a woefully inefficient system, but it was the most effective alerting method of the time. Fortunately, improvements were made towards the 1800s when a series of bell towers, or fire towers, were strategically placed around a city’s neighborhoods that could warn the surrounding community should a fire break out. The arrival of the telegraph during the 1850s allowed for a slightly more advanced fire alerting system. Two alarm boxes with telegraph keys were connected via a telegraph cable. One box is kept in the central alarm station, and the other is placed somewhere easily accessible out in the neighborhood. Alerting the station was a two-person job, with one operating the crank handle to generate the electricity for the signal while the other operator would use the telegraph key to rapidly tap out a morse-coded message detailing the location of the fire. A telegrapher at the central station would then relay the address to the fire department. Technology kept advancing, and our first electric fire alarm system went into widespread use before the turn of the 20th century. This new style of fire alerting system was the first to use a thermostat as a trigger to power an alarm bell and set sprinklers off to help contain the fire. It was primitive by today’s standards but still a step in the right direction. Fire Alerting Systems for the Modern Fire Station Since those early days, communication centers and fire stations have adopted more advanced forms of fire alerting using radio-based systems. These systems are capable of relaying critical information to first responders that let them know where the fire is and what they are up against so they can prepare in advance. Radio-based systems are still in use, but they have significant downsides for larger operations, including not being able to alert multiple units at a time, misunderstood messages, and putting distressed callers on hold while alerts are sent out. They are an excellent system for smaller fire stations, but they are also used as a reliable backup system that complies with requirements for redundancy according to NFPA guidelines. Fortunately, new technology and research are creating many opportunities for emergency services to implement even more advanced systems that benefit first responders and the community they serve. Automated Fire Station Alerting (FSA) Urban expansion and growing populations often put a lot of strain on fire departments dealing with more calls using the same or fewer resources. Automated FSA systems deliver a solution for cash-strapped fire stations that are increasingly asked to do more with less. An automated FSA system can significantly enhance the capabilities of CAD, as all the information related to the emergency can be delivered to first responders without having to put the caller on hold. Fire station alerts can be configured in various ways, including: Voice dispatching Automated “rip and run” printers Starting countdown timers Activating multi-unit indicator lights Opening bay doors Shutting off gas stoves Switching over traffic lights for faster exits As you can see, an automated FSA system can automate many procedures and cut response time down by the precious few seconds needed to save lives. With all the bells and whistles that CAD and FSA systems bring to the table, there is still more that can be done to improve fire alert systems, especially when you consider the health and safety of the crew. Resources EaseAlert Explained Want to know about new posts? Subscribe today and receive periodic alerts on what’s new on the Zetron Z-wire blog!
Thank you to CivicEye for contributing the following blog post The transition from active-duty law enforcement to retirement can be difficult. Career officers can struggle with a loss of purpose, a lack of camaraderie, and the sudden life changes retirement brings. With such a difficult adjustment, many former officers take up new hobbies, travel, and enjoy their newfound freedom. Others begin second careers in non-law enforcement centered industries. And some retirees continue to look for ways to be a positive influence on their chosen profession and serve their communities. Retired Deputy Chief Gary Holliday served with the Knoxville Tennessee Police Department for almost 30 years, retiring in 2019. “At 52 years old I wasn’t finished. While my career in active law enforcement was complete, I still felt I had something to offer my profession. I felt like, in a small way, I could still make a difference”. Deputy Chief Holliday found a way to make a difference by leveraging his years of experience and training into the law enforcement software industry and starting his second career at CivicEye, a cloud software company for law enforcement. Bringing Law Enforcement & Software Together The development and support of law enforcement software and hardware is a tremendous opportunity for retired law enforcement officers and for the organizations that hire them. They provide a unique perspective, centered around years of practical and tangible experience. These retired officers also bring a real-world perspective to product development, user interface, and system design. They understand the pitfalls and pains of new technology, but also have the knowledge and forethought to develop innovative strategies to overcome issues of change. Retired law enforcement officers bring added benefits to an organization aside from the development of trade tools. Some have worked in the higher levels of their police agency and have a great knowledge of the purchasing process, RFPs, and the internal mechanics of large projects and contracts. “Just three years ago, I was the customer. When I speak with our clients now, I always keep that in the back of my mind. What would I want to hear from my vendor representative? How long would this contract take me to get signed? What were my goals?’” said Gary Holliday. Continuing to Make an Impact Officers spend their careers making a meaningful impact on their communities. For many, it’s important to still have that sense of purpose and drive post retirement. Being able to transition into a second career that is still centered around making a difference not only benefits the retired officers, but the organizations they become part of, and in turn, the products they help develop. The partnership of retired law enforcement professional and innovative business is beneficial to all, and most importantly, to the communities they serve. By: CivicEye Want to know about new posts? Subscribe today and receive periodic alerts on what’s new on the Zetron Z-wire blog!
No matter the hazard, preparedness and mitigation are the keys to improving community resilience in the face of disaster. That said, it can take years to develop and establish well-organized and actionable emergency plans. As part of the preparation, multi-level partnerships and community relations must be forged to ensure necessary capabilities and capacity are present throughout all phases of an event. Equally challenging, besides learning how to identify risks, coordinate resources, and communicate effectively, stakeholders must also work to create social capital and build trust on all levels. Along these lines, first responders can act as a conduit for powering community resilience. Not only are they experts in planning for and managing emergencies, they’re also well-versed in disaster management concepts, such as the National Incident Management System (NIMS), Incident Command System (ICS), and the National Response Framework (NRF). Most important, because first responders are often members of the communities they serve, they already have an established rapport and comfortable familiarity with other residents and neighboring agencies. Therefore, they are in a prime position to inform and motivate the community to remain proactive, vigilant, and engaged. With this in mind, let’s explore some simple steps an emergency responder can take to contribute and support disaster resilience in their community. Purpose-Driven Conversations From cultivating awareness of disaster management programs to hosting fun and informative public events, emergency responders can translate the topic of disaster resilience into a community conversation that generates real results. As far as the content and structure for these events, the possibilities are endless. For instance, your agency could host a monthly community meeting to openly discuss ideas for mitigation or review plans for addressing specific hazards and concerns inherent to the area. To switch the topics up a bit, why not invite local businesses, utility representatives, insurance agents, and contractors to explain how their products or services can benefit the community during an emergency? Aside from supporting neighboring businesses, these meetings can help community members better assess their preparedness levels and act early to address potential issues. Going further, emergency agencies can request local experts in emergency planning, structural engineering, and federal grants to address disaster preparedness and recovery options available to both the community and individual residents. Likewise, volunteer agencies and non-governmental organizations can be a great source of information. Not only can these complementary agencies help drive home the message of long-term resilience, but they can also inspire residents to find creative ways to get involved and help others. Emergency-Building Activities Workshops, classes, and Q&A sessions can also help community members gain the knowledge and skills they need to become more self-efficient during an emergency or disaster. For example, why not host a workshop on how to assemble a household emergency plan and go-bag? Or a class that can demonstrate various ways residents can stockpile emergency supplies over time. Even better, informal question and answer sessions can also spark insights from both sides. Similarly, emergency responders can create programs for school-aged children that explain how to stay safe during various emergencies. Adding to the fun, these programs can be delivered in a game format to include giveaways like flashlights or wearable emergency beacons. Further still, if space or schedule is a problem, any of these events can be hosted online or posted as webinars on an agency’s website and social media channels. Remember, there are no limits to the level of creativity or engagement. The point is to generate momentum before disaster strikes. Often proper guidance and a gentle nudge are all community members need to get more involved in shoring-up their family’s safety and future security. Leadership-Emphasizing Exercises While many emergency responders possess inherent leadership qualities, not everyone is comfortable taking charge in adverse situations. And while this thought-process is normal and acceptable in many instances, the fact remains—learning how to step-up and lead during an emergency can help save lives. With this thought in mind, emergency responders can help coach and instill leadership qualities in every member of their community, including senior residents and those with fundamental needs. In these instances, modified tabletop and scenario-building exercises can help give introverted and hesitant residents the confidence and courage to take action or speak up and vocalize their thoughts on navigating the event. Better yet, tabletop exercises are a great way to address misconceptions and encourage higher public autonomy and accountability. What’s more, these exercises can also function as a springboard to identify which disaster assistance services may be needed in the community. For example, suppose several participants express anxiety over the ability to evacuate their families without assistance. In that case, emergency responders can forward these concerns to public officials as proof of the need to implement better public outreach and evacuation programs. Summing Up While this post isn’t an all exhaustive list of all the ways responders can help, we hope it will serve as an idea well moving forward. As the last decade has presented us all with unsurmountable challenges in the emergency services and disaster management sector, it’s essential to empower our communities with the knowledge and skills necessary to help themselves and others before, during, and after a crisis.
Hard to believe we recently (December) hit the four-year mark since Zetron first announced the award of a contract with the Iowa Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management (IDHSEM) to provide statewide Next Generation 9-1-1 shared technology services. At the time, statewide contracts weren’t necessarily typical, and shared public safety technology services models were even less common. It was a pretty big deal. Not just for Zetron, and not just in the Hawkeye state. When I joined Zetron in May of 2018, the ink on the Iowa contract was practically still wet. Zetron, RACOM (Zetron’s implementation and services partner on the contract locally in Iowa), and the IDHSEM were still very much in the planning phase of initial PSAP deployments. And what I kept hearing, both inside and outside of Zetron, was, “All eyes are on Iowa.” What I would soon come to find out was “all eyes on Iowa” meant something different internal to Zetron than it did in the market at large. Inside Zetron, what it meant was simple; this is an important initiative and making it successful is a company-wide commitment. But externally, what “all eyes on Iowa” meant was more like, “this raises a lot of questions.” Would a statewide shared services model work financially? Could the technology flex and scale to meet the expansive network aspirations? Would individual PSAPs buy in? How would the shared technologies integrate with the existing PSAP infrastructures and tools already in place at the local level? Would it be more disruptive than beneficial at the local PSAP level? Lots and lots of questions. As such, many Iowa PSAPs were understandably reluctant to clamor to the line to sign up when the contract was first announced. But as curiosity turned to interest, and interest turned to early adopters, Iowa shared services deployments began late in 2018. And since then, what’s been delivered (other than a lot more deployments) is a lot of questions answered With the anniversary of the December 4, 2017 contract award announcement, there are now (as of the date this post is publishing) 38 Iowa county PSAPs fully installed and deployed on the IDHSEM Next Gen 9-1-1 shared services contract, and another 26 have since signed and are in the process of having their implementations scheduled. They say bad news travels fast, but sometimes the same can be said for the good stuff too. Recently the IDHSEM and communications professionals from PSAPs that have deployed their new systems under the state contract were asked to talk a bit about the benefits of the statewide contract and how it’s working out. If you prefer video over text, read no further, check out the brief (3 minutes) video capturing sentiments conveyed here. But if reading is more your thing, let’s cover some highlights: The statewide contract was carefully researched and crafted in order to make enhanced next gen 9-1-1 technology available to every county and community in Iowa. Rural or urban, large or small, densely populated or no. Sharing technology infrastructure across the network enables PSAPs to save money and reallocate funding at the local level. The shared services contract ensures all PSAPs on the contract always have the latest and greatest versions of software, without having to expend large amounts of money on an annual basis. The technology provided through the contract is scalable, easily expandable with additional optional applications and services, and integrates with other existing systems, such as CAD. The Zetron next gen 9-1-1 systems offer the best user experience at the operator level in the market. Iowa 9-1-1 operators are using the new systems seamlessly, enjoying a user experience that’s intuitive, easy, and that saves them time. 24×7 centralized monitoring assures reliability. The systems simply have to work, always. PSAPs don’t have to worry if the software is functioning. “The shared services really provide 9-1-1 answering points the reliability, the ease of use, and the financial incentive to bring their center into next generation 9-1-1.” – Blake Derouchey, Iowa 9-1-1 Program Manager “It’s met every one of the needs and expectations that we have. It couldn’t come more highly recommended from us. That’s for sure.” – Andy Buffington, Hancock County Emergency Manager Seriously, you should check out the video. If all eyes truly have been on Iowa, so far there’s a lot of great reasons to like what they’re seeing. Over the first four years of the next gen 9-1-1 shared services program, Zetron has been tremendously proud, honored, and deeply committed to delivering time, cost, and life saving solutions to the state of Iowa and are looking forward to continuing to expand on what’s been a great start. Zetron didn’t make the video, but we’re certainly humbled and gratified to see the impacts of the great partnership that’s been forged with the IDHSEM and the difference it’s making in communities all across Iowa. By: Jim Shulkin Want to know about new posts? Subscribe today and receive periodic alerts on what’s new on the Zetron Z-wire blog!
Peer Support Programs – Mitigating the Emotional Effects of Vicarious Trauma Experienced by 911 Dispatchers
When in crisis, we call for help. In North America, it’s 911. In other regions of the world, it’s a different number. But what’s more important than the number, is who’s on the other end – the emergency response professionals on the front lines during our greatest times of need. From fires to automobile accidents, natural disasters to violent crimes, and so much more, their ability to calmly, efficiently, and compassionately comprehend the situation and tend to the immediate needs of the caller/texter, while simultaneously setting a coordinated response in motion, is inarguably the stuff of superheroes. Beyond the critical, tactical, logistical, and operational aspects of the job, the emotional heavy lifting that emergency telecommunicators and dispatchers must handle is taxing. And all too often overlooked. Perhaps inevitably, many face at least some form of compassion fatigue or secondary traumatic stress at some point in their career. For years now, we at Zetron have made a concerted effort to recognize the toll this work takes on the emergency response professionals in those hot seats and raise awareness for the vital wellness support needed to keep them healthy and safe, just as they work so hard to do for all of us. In the past two years specifically, we’ve held wellness webinars, (Part 1: Wellness & Peer Support Programs – Part 2: Integrating Peer Support in the PSAP) conducted surveys, published posts, and connected our emergency response audience with professionals that specialize in creating wellness programs to promote the mental, emotional and physical health of emergency responders. Suffice it to say, we’re invested in the wellness of superheroes. So, when we came across the published thesis, “Peer Support Programs: Mitigating the Emotional Stress of Vicarious Trauma Experienced by 9-1-1 Dispatchers,” by Melissa Alterio, Director of Emergency Communications at Cobb County 911, we felt compelled to share her fantastic work on this very important topic. Melissa’s passion and appreciation for the profession are evident. She explores the key concepts of compassion fatigue from shouldering the traumas of others through the lens of someone who sits in the seat and intimately understands the work. In her paper, Melissa shares the story of New York Fire Department Dispatcher, Gloria and her experience during the 9/11 terrorist attacks. So often, we think only of field First Responders and Military personnel when we consider the need for trauma support. Melissa’s paper reminds us that Emergency Response Dispatchers are heavily impacted by the fallout of traumatic events too, even without necessarily being exposed to them physically. The study of the health and wellness of Emergency Dispatchers is an understandably growing field, and we’ll continue to share content and resources in support. While not our own obviously, this work is too good not to share. We humbly thank Melissa for her great contribution to this important cause and her graciously permitting us to share it with you on Z-Wire. The following are brief excerpts from Melissa’s paper. You can read the full paper, Peer Support Programs: Mitigating the Emotional Stress of Vicarious Trauma Experienced by 9-1-1 Dispatchers here. Abstract Public safety telecommunicators, often referred to as 9-1-1 dispatchers, experience a significant compassion fatigue and secondary traumatic stress. Their job duties include listening to highly emotional callers provide specific details on current, tragic, and often horrific critical incidents in volatile working conditions. This paper focuses on a systemic review of research that identifies the working conditions and responsibilities of 9-1-1 dispatchers and the subsequent emotional effects of sustained exposure to vicarious trauma. The research recognizes a minimal amount of documentation regarding the stress 9-1-1 dispatchers’ experience which supports a fundamental need for comprehensive, longitudinal studies in this job classification. This review also seeks to prove the lack of intervention programs employed to reduce or mitigate the emotional effects of vicarious trauma, compassion fatigue, and secondary traumatic stress, thereby resulting in the irrefutable need for workplace peer support programs to combat these conditions felt by public safety telecommunicators. Introduction A research study conducted in 2015 at a national dispatch conference reported 17% of 205 participating public safety telecommunicators experienced symptoms of acute stress disorder (ASD) during their careers, a notably higher percentage than the general population (Trachik et al., 2015). Public safety telecommunicator (PSTs), (referred to in this document also as 9-1-1 dispatchers, 9-1-1 professionals, or emergency dispatchers) have a significant risk of exposure to secondary trauma due to experiencing critical incidents unfold through 9-1-1 callers descriptive information about traumatic scenes while in a highly emotional state of panic and distress (Rigden, 2017). Further research has shown that PSTs suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), with a significant correlation to peritraumatic stress, showing PSTs do not need to be physically present during a traumatic event for it to negatively impact their wellbeing (Pierce & Lilly, 2012). The frequency with which PSTs are subjected to highly emotional calls, paired with the presence of PTSD symptoms, can seriously jeopardize a PST’s everyday judgment and decision-making abilities on the job (Pierce & Lilly, 2012). Studies have shown peer support in the workplace minimizes distress and angst experienced by emergency service workers as a result of trauma and those who suffer post-stress related reactions following a critical incident (Scully, 2011). Background In the early morning hours of September 11, 2001, Fire Department of the City of New York (FDNY) dispatcher Gloria A. (personal communication, June 30, 2020) began her shift shortly after 6:30 a.m., arriving earlier than scheduled. Her specific assignment was dispatching Emergency Medical Services (EMS) units for the city (Dispatcher G.A., personal communication, June 30, 2020). With her partner calling in sick, Gloria was assigned the dispatching duties for all of Manhattan on this particular morning. As a military veteran turned public safety dispatcher… Read More Resources If you are a 9-1-1 Dispatcher who is struggling or in crisis, you deserve help: National Alliance on Mental Health https://nami.org/ NENA Wellness Continuum https://www.nena.org/general/custom.asp?page=WellnessContinuum APCO International – Health and Wellness https://www.apcointl.org/community/human-resources-toolbox/health-and-wellness/ National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – Call 988 https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ Follow Cobb County: https://www.facebook.com/joincobb911