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IPSA's Public Safety Column
The IPSA's Public Safety Column is an opportunity for our members and corporate sponsors to provide thought leadership articles about all topics facing public safety.
The articles we publish are not necessarily the views of the IPSA, rather they are opinions shared by each contributor.
By Paul Witry, Graduate Student in MS of Threat and Response Management, University of Chicago; Emergency Management Consultant – Planning, Response, EOC Ops, IPSA Member
The vulnerabilities faced by critical infrastructure are not entirely new. Attacks have taken place against infrastructure systems around the globe. On the international stage, a series of attacks against Ukrainian electrical grids impacts thousands of customers across the nation. While short-lived, these attacks represent a source of concern for other nations, particularly the United States. Additionally, the structure of the software used to trigger these attacks also may have caused long-term damage within the utility infrastructure in Ukraine. This risk of extensive impacts across an infrastructure system represent a much larger concern than an outage lasting a few hours.
The Nashville bombing is an incident that could have been more tragic had it not been for the quick action of first responders to ensure the safety of those in the area. There was one fatality – the bomber. The explosion represents an attack on telecommunications and cyber critical infrastructure.
Telecommunications, critical infrastructure
The United States has a dependency on telecommunication infrastructure, a sector that is particularly vulnerable to both physical and cyber-attacks. This has been emphasized throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and heightened awareness of this dependency was further illustrated from the recent Nashville bombing.
Throughout the pandemic, organizations have shifted many operations to remote environments across the public and private sector. This transition has opened our eyes as to how critical functional telecommunications systems are to all types of organizations. Given this, securing our telecommunications network from both cyber and physical attacks must be high priority at the international and domestic level.
Implementing best practices for security across the public and private sectors can create a more secure world for all. Additionally, creating and maintaining the recommended channels of communication between local, state, federal, and international stakeholders offers effective coordination between all those involved.
Cyber, critical infrastructure
The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) was founded in 2018 under the United States Department of Homeland Security with the intent of identifying and securing our nation’s infrastructure from both cyber and physical threat actors.
The creation of CISA signifies a dedication to increased risk management when it concerns our national infrastructure for years to come. The agency continues to offer updated guidance and best practices for government facilities and public-private partners on how to implement countermeasures for bombings and other physical attacks, as well as cyber-attacks against critical infrastructure.
United Nations report
At the international level, a report compiled in 2018 by the United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism (UNOCT) and United Nations Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED) offered a series of leading practices for securing critical infrastructure against terrorist attacks and other threat actors. Some of the most pertinent recommendations include:
These recommendations span both the domestic and international level, promoting collaboration among local agencies and between members of the international community.
Some threat actors may view infrastructure impacts as a tool to achieve their overall goals. Warden’s Five Strategic Rings theory originally grew out of military strategy. The concentric circles illustrate the layers surrounding the core of operations, which is leadership. Critical infrastructure is represented as the tertiary ring in this hierarchy. If threat actors were to become more strategic in their operations, critical infrastructure would represent their primary target due to its broad impacts. This shift to a more strategic system could signify an increase in potential attacks directed toward critical infrastructure from both foreign and domestic sources.
The Nashville bombing reinforces the idea that not all threat actors may be targeting the lives of others. In this scenario, the attacker’s target is thought to be the telecommunication system present in the area. As the world is increasingly interconnected and dependent on these infrastructure systems, they represent a more attractive target for actors who may wish to trigger cascading impacts that will last beyond the initial attack. The constant battle to stay abreast to the new tactics and tools being utilized by these actors will only intensify as their targets have a larger sphere of impact for any nation.
About the Author
Paul Witry is currently a graduate student at the University of Chicago studying Threat Response and Emergency Management. He holds a double B.A. in Political Science and International Relations with a focus in National Security from Loyola University of Chicago.
By Lawrence Nolan, Ph.D., Program Manager, Capstone Corporation, IPSA Member
An important component of the public safety sector is the unpaid staff in organizations serving communities as volunteers. Individuals who volunteer willingly give of their time, and in many cases, do it in order to make a difference or give back to the community as addressed in the Volunteer Engagement Toolkit Guide. There are many dedicated individuals across the nation that devote their time as volunteers to government, non-profit and charitable organizations. The U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics reported in 2015 that about 62.6 million people were volunteers in America. During that period, volunteers 16 years and older contributed 8.9 billion hours and volunteers over 65 years were responsible for 2.2 billion hours of the total. This provides an insight into the value that approximately 20 percent of the population places on service to others. The public safety community is supported by a portion of these volunteers.
To consider volunteers in public safety, it is helpful to understand who they are. Jeffrey Brudney’s article on volunteers in the public sector characterized volunteers as supporting a government organization and mission, providing their time freely, receiving no remuneration for their time or labor, however they may be compensated for their personal expenses in support of their work. These volunteers support federal, state, tribal, and municipal government organizations, religious, non-governmental, non-profit, and community-based organizations involved in providing safety to the public. Their support is provided to a wide variety of public safety sectors.
Emergency services volunteers
This is not a comprehensive list of public safety organizations with volunteers, but it does provide a perspective on the diversity of ways volunteers support public safety. Recruitment and retention of volunteers are important to the public safety community.
Volunteer fire departments, emergency medical services and ambulance transport serve many communities across the nation. The National Fire Protection Association reported in their U.S. fire department profile that there are an estimated 1,115,00 firefighters in the nation during 2018, with approximately 33 percent career and 67 percent volunteer firefighters. Those 745,000 volunteer firefighters are making a significant contribution to public safety across the country.
Other public safety volunteers support Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT), Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters (VOAD), American Red Cross, Medical Reserve Corps, Neighborhood Watch & Volunteers in Police Service (VIPS), Fire Corps, Civil Air Patrol, American Radio Relay League (ARRL) and Meals on Wheels Association of America as reported in Ready Gov.
The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary has approximately 26,000 volunteers with a focus on recreational boating safety.
Recognition of the value of volunteers drives effective management and success of organizations. Providing an environment that appreciates volunteers leads to an increase of services to the public. Knowing what motivates volunteers can assist in the development of organizational policies. In a study of volunteers in non-profit organizations, community service, career advancement and well-being were common underlying motivations for individuals. The Volunteer Functions Inventory created in 1992 by E.G. Clary, M. Snyder, and R. Ridge was addressed in a systematic review and identified six motivations in volunteers.
Organizations need to appreciate these volunteer motivations and ensure they are managing to support the recruitment and retention of volunteers.
Successful volunteer programs in the public safety sector understand the importance of focusing on volunteer motivations. Addressing the needs of volunteers increases organizational output and maintains their commitment to the mission. In the article volunteers in the public sector, it identifies the following best practices for managing volunteers in organizations.
It is important to implement these best practices in organizations that utilize volunteers. It allows the volunteers to feel valued and appreciated for their contributions to public safety. It also maximizes the support provided by volunteers in the office.
Volunteers are a resource for the public safety sector to consider in fulfilling their mission. They are used in a wide variety of roles and are motivated to assist their communities. Effectively managing volunteers leads to their retention and assists in the effort to recruit new members. Utilizing volunteers may be an alternative for public safety organizations, when funds are unavailable to hire to requirements.
Lawrence Nolan, Ph.D. is a Program Manager for Capstone Corporation, retired from the Department of the Army and U.S. Navy Reserve, and is a member of the USCG Auxiliary.
By Sarah Guenette, Learning & Development Manager, Calgary Community Standards, IPSA Mental Health Committee Member
There has been a lot of talk in the media recently around the issue of unconscious bias and many agencies are looking into training for their employees in how to recognize and mitigate unconscious bias. But what is it? And what does it mean for first responders?
What is bias?
Bias is defined as “a prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another usually in a way that’s considered to be unfair. Biases may be held by an individual, group, or institution and can have negative or positive consequences”. Bias can be either conscious or unconscious (also known as explicit or implicit). Conscious bias is intentional, whereas unconscious bias is most of the time involuntary.
“Unconscious biases, otherwise known as implicit biases, are inherent or learned stereotypes about people that everyone forms without realizing it. Unconscious biases are social stereotypes about an individual, group or institution. Everyone has unconscious biases about various groups, and they are often not aligned with one’s conscious values”.
Due to the misalignment with conscious values, it takes some examination of your own reactions in different situations to analyze whether you are working under unconscious biases or not. Most people consciously do not want to think they are biased towards anyone. Often unconscious biases stem from childhood and are imbedded in the person so early on that they do not even consider them. In fact, biases originated as a way for humans to keep themselves safe, to be able to assess quickly whether someone else is a friend or an enemy. For prehistoric humans, the ability to judge someone else quickly could be a case of life or death.
Types of unconscious bias
Unconscious bias comes in many forms, including:
Bias in first responders
Looking at this list of specific types of bias, it is easy to see how some of these would creep in to the first responder realm without people being conscious of it even happening. Two types that would appear to be obvious include groupthink and perception bias.
Newly hired first responders want to fit in to the group. They are enthusiastic about their new position and often look up to the more experienced members. It could be easy to slip into the unconscious group think to fit in. That could potentially be a positive team building thing, making the new person one of us.
However, if that groupthink is based on negative biases towards others that can lead to toxic environments in the workplace and impact how responders react in certain situations.
Unconscious perception bias is probably the biggest obstacle for not only first responders, but for everyone in general. Animals, including human beings, are constantly receiving information about their surroundings and situations. That information is then analyzed based on knowledge and previous experiences and a perception is formed about what is going on. This is all done almost instantaneously and most of the time without any conscious thought being committed to it. People take in certain facts about a situation and decide what is going on.
Take this example provided by Gavin de Becker in his book The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals That Protect Us from Violence
“Imagine a man arriving for work one morning. He does not go in an unlocked front door, but instead goes around to a back entrance. When he sees someone ahead of him use a key to get in, he runs up and catches the door before it relocks. Once he is inside the building, he barely responds as a co-worker calls out, ‘The boss wants to see you’. ‘Yeah, I want to see him too,’ the man says quietly. He is carrying a gym bag, but it appears too heavy to contain just clothes.
Before going to his boss’s office, he stops in the locker room, reaches into the bag and pulls out a pistol. He takes a second handgun from the bag and conceals both of them beneath his coat. Now he looks for his boss.”
As de Becker points out, if the story stopped right here people reading it would have not only formed perceptions of this man in the story, but also predictions about what is going to happen next. This is because most people have preconceived notions about what it means when someone carries a firearm into their workplace and are looking for their boss.
However, if you add in the fact that the man in this story is a police detective reporting for duty it changes things considerably. A police officer could also commit workplace violence, but most people would assume that this detective is just getting ready for work. If the workplace in the story were instead a university or a post office this would change the perception yet again.
First responders have a disadvantage when trying to manage their own unconscious perception bias. They are often entering situations where they do not have all the facts to decide what is going on and this is where unconscious biases could appear. Since unconscious biases are deep rooted in our survival instinct, periods of stress and pressure tend to bring them to the forefront. These perception biases can be ingrained from experience in the first responder job role. The people and situations first responders encounter are mapped into certain categories in the responder’s mind, and sometimes there are only seconds to complete this assessment. Plus, it is done completely involuntarily by the responder.
Remember this is vastly different than conscious racism, sexism and homophobia. Most first responders have an accepting conscious belief system and would not consciously act on anything discriminatory. Everyone would agree there is no place in the first responder world for those who would consciously change their response to a citizen in crisis based on bias. The first responders that do that would warrant a much longer and in-depth article.
Addressing unconscious bias
There is no shame in having unconscious biases, everyone has them.
It would be incredibly challenging, if not impossible, to train people out of having unconscious biases since it is so embedded in the human condition. In the first responder world, the biggest step is to have an awareness that these biases exist. It would be beneficial for agencies to educate first responders on unconscious bias, what it is and how it can impact them in their day-to-day work.
Genuine self-reflection is the key to understanding unconscious bias. This could lead to a reduction in how often unconscious bias negatively impacts how first responders act in certain situations. The goal should not be to eliminate unconscious bias, but rather to mitigate it and its impacts on the way that first responders react.
If you are interested in seeing what unconscious biases you have, try taking Harvard University’s Implicit Association Test through Project Implicit.
Or you can ask yourself what pops into your head when you hear the following descriptions. Consider where those beliefs have come from.
Sarah Guenette, M.A., is the Learning & Development Manager for Calgary Community Standards. She oversees recruit training and continuing education for 9-1-1 call evaluators, bylaw and animal officers, business licensing inspectors, livery inspectors and animal shelter services employees. Sarah has a background in 9-1-1 and was a call evaluator, dispatcher and operations manager for over 10 years. She has overseen the Psychological Health and Safety portfolio and the Peer Support team for Calgary Community Standards since 2013. She is passionate about creating and maintaining a healthy workplace for employees. Sarah is also the proud wife of a Calgary Police Service Officer.
By John Klich, Superintendent, Toronto Paramedic Services, IPSA Member
The COVID-19 pandemic has created challenges for every organization. Even those agencies with pandemic plans have struggled with the nuances of operationalizing strategies that may have never been actually used. Many plans are based on unwavering assumptions like a reliable supply chain or sufficient staffing. However, the current pandemic has proven that such assumptions are often the overlooked vulnerability when it comes to making these plans work.
One thing COVID-19 has created is an incredible environment for innovation and collaboration. Many businesses have pivoted to either meet supply chain needs or adapt to the changing markets related to lock downs and restrictions. Organizations are applying creative solutions to new challenges, often in the context of partnerships. Unless these rapid changes, new procedures and relationships are clearly understood by everyone involved, the outcomes may be slow, confusing, or even unexpected.
Process mapping explained
Process mapping is a visual method of identifying what is being done and who is responsible for doing it. It is often illustrated as a flow chart that shows key tasks and decisions as part of a set of steps. Process maps can be simple high level overviews to convey general strategies; or they can be complex plans detailing the tactics and tasks necessary to solve a problem. The level of detail and complexity is determined by the intended user or audience.
In the first responder world, process maps can be used to illustrate response scenarios and find efficiencies, reducing response times.
Public safety uses
A process map can be used to capture a specific response measure for a public safety agency. When there is a fire or similar threat to a large congregate setting like an apartment building, temporary shelter may be required for the evacuees to protect them from inclement weather or other elements. In some jurisdictions, transit buses are deployed to the incident scene to serve as mobile shelters for hundreds of displaced people. However, during a pandemic, significantly more shelter buses may be required to maintain physical distancing and accommodate evacuees who are on quarantine.
A process map can aid incident command in assessing the bus needs and managing the evacuees appropriately. It can identify specific tasks or roles required to provide safe and effective evacuation and sheltering of displaced persons.
Similarly, special teams might use a process map to clearly outline a procedure like decontamination at a CBRNE incident. In this case, a highly visual flowchart can aid in prioritizing decisions for responders who may not be familiar with this type of activity; it can convey triage points and responsibilities very quickly.
A more detailed process map might be used for protocols that are complex and involve more stakeholders as with a pandemic prevention measure.
Many public safety agencies are directly involved in patient care; they provide first response, treatment & transport. Pre-shift screening is an important pandemic measure to prevent sick staff from exposing healthy workers or their patients to potentially COVID-19.
However, screening is only the start of the mitigation process. Understanding what is supposed to happen when a staff member fails a screening is critical to ensuring staff and patient safety. A pre-shift screening process map might include the following considerations:
A detailed process map would outline all the steps in the pre-shift screening procedure including decision points like PASS or FAIL. The specific roles responsible for follow up tasks and monitoring are also captured in the flow chart. This provides a simple visual for all staff to follow.
Explaining the value
The real value of process mapping is the visual layout of tasks, decision points and the corresponding outcomes. Everyone who has a stake in the activity can see what needs to be done and who is responsible. This approach also forces the developers to think through each decision response and close off any loose ends.
The simplest way to create a process map is to jot down each task and decision separately on a Post-It note. This allows the notes to be organized and rearranged as the process is developed. Once the process is mapped out, it can be transcribed into an application to save and distribute electronically. Several applications like MS Word or PowerPoint have the basic tools and functions to create a process map. Other applications like Visio, Smart Draw are much more adept at creating process maps, however, they have a slightly steeper learning curve.
Another option is to complete an online course like Learn the basics of mapping a process. In less than an hour, you will have the basics and some resources to start mapping.
Process mapping is useful to improve understanding of the scope of a response measure. It can be an effective tool to communicate what your organization is doing to manage a risk like COVID-19 exposures or provide an effective response like safe fire evacuations.
John Klich is a Superintendent with Toronto Paramedic Services, currently assigned to supporting the Ambulance Communications Centre. His primary focus is business continuity and emergency preparedness & planning to ensure the 9-1-1 call center is operating 24/7. His previous portfolios included Community Paramedicine and Operations. John also has experience as a paramedic Field Training Officer and a Flight Paramedic. John has a BA in Social Science and several college certificates including Emergency Management, Crisis Communications, Incident Management System and Security Intelligence Counter Terrorism.
By Gregory L. Walterhouse, Associate Teaching Professor, Bowling Green State University, IPSA Member
Over the past several months, activist groups, celebrities and opinion editorials have called for defunding the police. These actions are not trivial or inconsequential, as they are driving public policy with some corporations and politicians.
Some Corporations are financially supporting the “defund the police” movement. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company drew the ire of many when a leaked company policy that purported to prohibited Goodyear employees from wearing apparel on company premises that supported the police. This was surprising news from a company that is a major supplier of tires for police vehicles.
At the time this story broke, this author contacted Goodyear by email through their corporate website requesting clarification of their policy, but received no reply. Goodyear has since clarified their policy to allow employees to wear apparel that expresses support for police on Goodyear premises.
Of greater concern is the number of politicians that are jumping on the “defund the police” bandwagon. As reported by Newsweek, at the federal level Congresswomen Ilhan Omar (Minnesota), Rashida Tlaib (Michigan), and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (New York) have all called for defunding the police. At the local level, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced his plan to cut $150 million from the city’s police budget. Forbes reports that a number of cities have already reduced police budgets and staffing including Austin, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland, Baltimore, Portland, Philadelphia, Hartford, Salt Lake City and Washington D.C.
The call to defund the police, though vague and generally undefined, purportedly stems from the claimed injustice of violent police encounters with African American males, most notably George Floyd in Minneapolis.
What the data shows
The 2018 United States Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) summary reveals that only 2% of U.S. residents that had police contact experienced threats or use of force. It is noteworthy that the study includes handcuffing as a use of force. There are 223.3 million licensed drivers in the U.S. of which 8.6% experienced a stop by police as driver of a motor vehicle. Of those stopped 95% indicated the police behaved properly.
A report in The Federalist Society Review indicates that police made 99% of arrests without the use of force and that in only 0.003% of arrests was deadly force with a firearm used. To place this into context, the BJS reports that 53.5 million people had contact with the police in 2015. A study published in the Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery supports this data. The authors of the study conclude police use of force is rare, and when used, officers commonly rely on unarmed physical force and conducted electrical weapons (CEW).
Police use of force has also declined over the past 50 years as reported by the Wall Street Journal. In 1971, New York City police officers reported 810 firearm discharges, wounding 220 persons and killing 93. In contrast, in 2016, there were 72 firearm discharges, with 23 wounded and 9 killed.
Harvard Professor Roland Fryer’s research data is instructive. Professor Fryer has found that while black and Hispanic populations are more likely to experience non-lethal force, “on the most extreme use of force — officer-involved shootings — we find no racial differences in either the raw data or when contextual factors are taken into account.” Another study suggests, that not race, but “exposure to police given crime rate differences likely accounts for the higher per capita rate of fatal police shootings for Blacks.”
In a related article, legislative and budgetary actions that are averse to law enforcement agencies have resulted in a higher percentage of police officers resigning or retiring. Compounded by the challenges of recruiting new officers in today’s environment has left many police agencies short staffed. The result is substantially rising crime rates in some cities.
New York City: As of August 2020, shootings are up 87% in New York City from August 2019. New York City has also experienced a 47% increase in murders, 4% increase in robberies and a 22% increase in burglaries for the same period.
Philadelphia, Chicago and Los Angeles: CNN reports that homicides increased 32% in Philadelphia and 52% in Chicago. Similarly, homicides have increased 25% in Los Angeles from 2019-2020.
Austin: The City of Austin who cut roughly one-third of its police budget, has experienced a 40% increases in homicides in 2019, an 18% increase in aggravated assaults, and abnormally high attrition.
Minneapolis: According to the CNN report, homicides increased 85% in Minneapolis from July 2019 to July 2020. After vowing to defund the police in November 2020, the City Council narrowly reversed course after experiencing the highest number of homicides and aggravated assaults in fifteen years and approved nearly $500,000 to contract with the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office and Metro Transit Police for additional officers through the end of December.
However, while not reducing the authorized staffing of 888 officers, the City Council did reduce the budget of Minneapolis Police Department by $8 million.
Defunding the police is not included in recommendations
The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights report Police use of Force: An Examination of Modern Policing Practices offers the following highlighted recommendations to reduce incidents of excessive force:
An article by Rizer and Mooney, suggests similar recommendations including de-escalation in the use of force training, greater transparency in use of force policies, promotion of successful field training officer programs, limiting acquisition and use of military resources, and greater accountability for misuse of force. It is noteworthy that none of these recommendations call for defunding of police and to the contrary would require a greater monetary investment particularly for training and enhanced data collection and dissemination.
According to Harvard Professor Fryer “defunding the police is not a solution and could cost thousands of black lives.” This is evidenced by the rising homicide rate in many cities since the start of defund the police movement. An article in Newsweek suggests “multiple factors explain, these trends, including diminished police legitimacy in the wake of Floyd’s killing.”
The data to support the call to defund the police is light. Citing from Rousseau, security of citizens is an essential element of the social contract, without police there is no security. Accordingly, calls to defund the police are both irrational and irresponsible.
Greg Walterhouse is an Associate Teaching Professor in the Department of Political Science at Bowling Green State University and teaches in the Fire Administration and Master’s in Public Administration programs. Greg holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Management from Oakland University, a Master’s degree in Legal Studies from the University of Illinois, a Master’s degree in Personnel Management from Central Michigan University and a Specialist Degree in Educational Leadership from Bowling Green State University. Prior to coming to BGSU Greg had over 35 years’ experience in public safety holding various positions. The author may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Police under siege: Concerns with emergency legislation
By: Paul Witry, Graduate Student in MS of Threat and Response Management, University of Chicago; Emergency Management Consultant – Planning, Response, EOC Ops, IPSA Member
The COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally shifted the way those on the front lines operate during, mitigate, and respond to disasters. With the traditional EOC representing a primary transfer point for COVID-19 due to high concentrations of personnel, this has presented a new challenge for first responders. The emergency management community has been forced to implement new modes of operation through virtual EOCs and response operations.
FEMA has issued a series of best practices for EOC operations during the COVID-19 pandemic. This encompasses the implementation of a physical and virtual EOC and some in a hybrid system to limit on-site personnel. By implementing these best practices in a virtual environment, first responders and emergency operators can ensure the same security and efficacy of their operations.
While virtual environments have been utilized in the past, COVID-19 has forced more operations than ever into the digital domain. And while represents an adjustment for many response communities, there are opportunities to increase operational continuity and efficacy for the future. Software and services such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom and Google allow for effective video conferencing and file sharing. Additionally, some tools provide emergency management tailored services for organizations and agencies. These resources allow for better tracking of required documentation and maintaining interoperability between agencies and stakeholders when necessary.
Below are some of the challenges and benefits that emergency managers and first responders face due to increased virtual operations.
EOC virtual benefits
While not comprehensive, below are some unique benefits to EOC's operating in a virtual environment.
EOC virtual challenges
Below are some challenges that EOC's need to be aware of when operating in a virtual environment.
The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged emergency management and public safety agencies to adapt and establish new modes of operation, response, and recovery. While the shift to hybrid operations is not unknown, the sustained response that has been required for COVID-19 places more dependencies than ever on access to technology. The implementation of these systems will stand as a model for disaster responses in the future. This pandemic will solidify new best practices for agencies of all sizes to manage a disaster that inhibits physical EOC operations.
About the Author
By Trevor Wilson, ISO and Accreditation Manager, Indianapolis Fire Department, IPSA Member
Staffing cuts. Rolling blackouts. Inadequate fleets. Broken-down equipment. What will the current pandemic mean for public safety agencies in the next two-to-three years?
There are three questions to address. First, how is the agency funded? The current recession will impact agencies reliant upon property taxes differently than those funded through other tax streams. Second, what are the agency’s top priorities over the next two-to-five years? There are reasons to move large capital projects to the front of the line. Third, what data needs to be gathered so the agency can best tell its story? Relevant facts regarding the agency’s current performance, benchmark goals, and the specifics of how budget cuts will affect service to the community must be articulated in a manner that is easily understood by the public and politicians the agency serves.
There are stark differences between the current recession and last decade’s Great Recession. The Great Recession occurred due to predatory lending practices leading to both borrowers and lenders becoming over-extended. Home foreclosures occurred at a historic rate, and property values plummeted as whole neighborhoods sat vacant. Expectedly, property tax revenues plummeted, resulting in public safety budget cuts of two percent on average across the country.
The current economic conditions are a vastly different than the previous recession.
Property, sales taxes
For property tax-funded public safety agencies, there are a few economic indicators that leadership should monitor. Foreclosure rates, the number of real estate owned mortgages, loans sold at auction, and the percent of mortgage delinquencies over 90 days provide an accurate foreshadowing of future revenues. While not as immediate, the year-over-year changes in housing prices possess predictive power as well.
The news is not rosy for agencies dependent on other tax revenue streams due to the pandemic grounding travel and tourism to a veritable halt. Lockdowns and quarantines forced many small businesses and restaurants to shutter for good. These developments mean significant reductions in corporate and individual income tax revenues, particularly for locales more reliant on non-wage tax income. The silver lining is that the recovery will likely be swift once a vaccine is widely available, with some projections calling for a return to pre-COVID levels by the end of 2022.
Immediate actions to take
The specter of budget cuts forces agencies to reevaluate what must be accomplished in the short-term. Even organizations with updated strategic plans need to reconsider their priorities. For example, much-needed capital projects slated for after 2023 should be fast-tracked based on the 20 percent reduction in funding for capital projects public safety agencies experienced during the Great Recession. These cuts lagged two years behind the economic downturn, which means that there may still be a chance to get buildings built and apparatus purchased.
If an agency lacks a long-term planning document, it is time to quickly put one together, even if it is just for internal use. The emergency plan should cover the next two to four years, and its focus should be on the most pressing issues facing the agency. The current climate calls for a document that eschews the typical holistic approach for one that is more primal and practical.
Perform a mini-SWOT analysis, concentrating on the agency’s weaknesses and threats. Begin with revisiting and reflecting on the primary remit of the agency. Identify the most pressing challenges and obstacles to service facing the agency in the next two to four years, and then prioritize those issues from the public’s perspective. For example, a normal plan may call for new cardiac monitors to be phased in over five years; the emergency plan prioritizes simply ensuring every crew has a working cardiac monitor every day.
Decisions must be data-driven. Ideally, agencies have previously determined and begun tracking their key performance indicators and outcome-based assessment measures. This data is key to determining and communicating needs to the public and government officials. Agencies lacking robust data sets can leverage surrounding and like-sized agencies’ data to assist in establishing benchmarks. Research from national groups such as NFPA, NIST, NORA, and NAEMSP is also pertinent. Agencies must then begin tracking their data for comparison’s sake.
Do not overlook assessing the status of the agency’s fleet and facilities. Public safety agencies are typically masters of stretching the maximum value out of these investments. However, broken-down rigs and mold-infested stations carry real implications that negatively impact performance quality. If physical assets are nearing their expected end-of-service date, make a move to ensure they are replaced while the funding is still available. None of an agency’s other decisions matter if they cannot reliably staff and safely deliver emergency responders to the public.
Having a firm grasp on what, who and how of an agency’s communication plan is vital to success. First, what is the agency’s vision for the near future? What are the most pertinent facts and information that will be needed to substantiate this vision? Next, who are the different audiences that need to be reached? Aside from internal stakeholders, the authority having jurisdiction, and the public, are there other entities that need to be specifically addressed? Finally, how does the message need to be tailored to each identified group? Will there be opportunities for the groups to provide feedback and build ownership?
After revisiting or developing new strategic priorities for the immediate future, agencies should formalize these goals, complete with objectives and tasks. This process includes identifying the data and facts that will best allow the agency to communicate their performance, vision, and needs to various audiences. This information needs to be gathered and made to be readily available in an easily digestible form.
It is a given that the agency’s membership, AHJ, and the public should all be targeted explicitly for communication. Also, agencies should consider other entities that might support or deter their efforts. For example, who are possible partners for public/private partnerships to increase staffing or funding for community risk reduction efforts? Who are the community groups most likely to support an agency’s vision? Who is most likely to be at odds with the plans?
With the groups identified, the real work begins. Agencies must design differentiated messaging strategies to fit the needs of each group. Leadership determines the levels of ownership they need to concede to gain support. Does the target group simply need to be informed, or will opinions need to be changed? Can hearts be won, or do strategic alliances need to be formed to head off problems?
Selecting proper phrasing is vital. Technical jargon and specific goals are appropriate for internal audiences; communicating with other groups warrants a different approach. Utilizing apt metaphors and examples, along with group-specific buzzwords, helps agencies explain nuanced issues in layman’s terms. Successful agencies meet their audiences where they are and bring them up to speed.
Preparing presentations along the 30-3-30 Rule makes sense. Agencies need a 30-second pitch tailored to each audience that lays out what the agency plans to do and why. The 3-minute pitch goes into greater detail, concentrating on group-appropriate buzzwords and examples. The 30-minute pitch fully expounds the examples from the 3-minute pitch. By the conclusion of the 30-minute pitch, the listener should have a solid understanding of the agency’s plan and the data used to create it.
In these uncertain times, prudent leadership calls for proactive planning. Prioritizing an agency’s most dire needs creates direction in the face of budget cuts. Gathering the appropriate data and constructing powerful messaging provides an agency with the best opportunity to minimize its damage. Doing so will allow agencies to control the narrative and set the bar for other agencies competing for the same funding.
Trevor Wilson serves the Indianapolis Fire Department as the ISO and Accreditation Manager. He holds a Master of Science in Management and Leadership from Western Governors University and is currently working towards a PhD-BA in Public Affairs through Northcentral University. He also volunteers as a peer assessor for the Commission on Fire Accreditation International. He can be reached at email@example.com.
By Nicholas Greco, M.S., BCETS, CATSM, FAAETS, Chair of the International Public Safety Association’s Mental Health and Wellness Committee
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought higher levels of stress along with heightened anxiety. While emergency responders and healthcare professionals may be more resilient than others, they still need to be mindful of their own stress and anxiety. Prolonged stress and anxiety levels can lead to feelings of depression, especially during the fall and winter months. Therefore, the importance of recognizing and maintaining one’s mental health and overall well-being cannot be stressed enough.
Here are some quick and useful tips for emergency responders and healthcare providers to help reduce anxiety:
About the Author
NICHOLAS GRECO IV, M.S., B.C.E.T.S., C.A.T.S.M., F.A.A.E.T.S., is President and Founder of C3 Education and Research, Inc. Nick has over 20 years of experience training civilians and law enforcement. He has authored over 325 book reviews, presented globally on over 400 professional presentations, workshops, and in-services, and authored or co-authored numerous articles and text supplements in psychiatry and psychology. He is a subject matter expert for PoliceOne/Lexipol and Axon as well as a CIT trainer for the Chicago Police Department and the State of Illinois. Nick is a member of the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), IACP, IPSA, and CIT International, as well as Committee Chair for the IPSA Mental Health Committee and Chair of the Lake County Suicide Prevention Task Force. Nick can be reached at by visiting his website http://www.c3educationandresearch.com/ or emailing him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
By Greg Friese, Editorial Director, Lexipol
Editor's Note: This article reprinted with permission of EMS1.
Firefighters in New Orleans have been ordered to take off six furlough days between now and the end of the year as part of a citywide effort to balance a budget crushed by COVID-19. But New Orleans firefighters are not the only public safety personnel facing COVID-19-imposed budget reductions that are leading to furloughs, hiring freezes and layoffs.
A furlough is a mandatory, temporary layoff that is unpaid. In some industries, furloughs might be for consecutive days, weeks or even months.
In tourist-dependent communities, like New Orleans, COVID-19 has drastically reduced sales and room tax revenues. At the same time, many of those communities have incurred increased expenses from overtime staff during the pandemic and periods of civil unrest, as well increased purchasing of PPE.
But no community is immune to the fiscal impacts of COVID-19. If the leaders and elected officials in your area aren’t already discussing furloughs, permanent layoffs or hiring freezes, they are likely to begin those discussions soon. Now is the time to adopt a furlough mindset to prepare for “when I am furloughed” rather than “if I am furloughed.”
Here are a few ideas to help you prepare for and navigate a furlough:
1. Know Your Rights as an Employee
Is your employment “at will,” or is it governed by a collective bargaining agreement or some other form of contract? If you are an at-will employee, your employment can be terminated at any time, with or without cause. You might also be at risk of being furloughed with limited notice.
If you are covered by a contract or collective bargaining agreement, review the terms for how furloughs will be announced and assigned. Will furlough days be assigned to all personnel, like was the case in New Orleans? Or will assignment, seniority or other factors be taken into consideration?
2. Participate in Budget-Balancing Discussions and Decisions
Elected officials, municipal staff and public safety leaders are likely meeting regularly to discuss options to overcome budget shortfalls. Either through union representation or direct engagement, find a way to participate in those discussions. Make sure your voice is heard.
The “people will die” and similar fear-invoking arguments didn’t seem especially effective in the aftermath of the 2008 recession and will likely not land with elected officials and citizens already overwhelmed by hyperbole in the current polarized political climate. Focus on factual, well-reasoned talking points that are backed up by department data, such as response time, national standards for apparatus staffing, and accreditation requirements for training.
3. Plan for the Pay Reduction
Losing six days of pay for a 24-hour workday – 144 work hours or 7% of a work year – is a significant loss of income. Smaller paychecks may impact scheduled auto-withdrawals for rent or mortgage payments, car payments, utilities, insurance, retirement and college savings, and other expenses. As needed, pause some or all of those automatic payments.
If a furlough is looming, consider deferring major purchases like a home, vehicle or vacation. It might be better to keep earning a few cents of interest on the down payment you have been saving to work until your work schedule returns to normal.
Hopefully your city has been able to absorb some of the budgetary impact from COVID-19 with an emergency or rainy-day fund. Now is the time, if you don’t have an emergency fund, to park $500 to $1,000 in a low-risk, low-yield savings account. Emergencies, like repairing the furnace or fixing a roof leak, rarely happen when it is warm, sunny and cash is flowing regularly. Create your own rainy-day fund for the rainy days ahead.
If your income and financial circumstances allow it, consider building that emergency fund up until it will cover three months of major expenses, like housing, utilities and food.
4. Find Other Work
A short furlough might be enough time off to start another full-time or part-time job, but many public safety personnel already have a side hustle. Some income is better than no income and reduces the risk of depleting your emergency fund. Start looking now for those opportunities, which, you never know, may lead to your post-public safety career.
5. Make the Most of a Furlough Day
I wouldn’t wish unpaid time off on anyone, but the adage, “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade” is a reminder that we can choose our attitude and how we spend our time. Furlough days might be a chance for:
Choice of Last Resort
I am hopeful that a furlough is not forced upon any police officer, firefighter, EMT, paramedic or corrections officer. My strong advice to any local government leader is to make furloughs and layoffs the choice of last resort.
Greg Friese, MS, NRP, is the Lexipol Editorial Director, leading the efforts of the editorial team on PoliceOne, FireRescue1, Corrections1, EMS1 and Gov1. Greg served as the EMS1 editor-in-chief for five years. He has a bachelor's degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a master's degree from the University of Idaho. He is an educator, author, national registry paramedic since 2005, and a long-distance runner. Greg was a 2010 recipient of the EMS 10 Award for innovation. He is also a three-time Jesse H. Neal award winner, the most prestigious award in specialized journalism, and the 2018 Eddie Award winner for best Column/Blog. Connect with Greg on Twitter or LinkedIn and submit an article idea or ask questions with this form.
By Heather R. Cotter, International Public Safety Association Executive Director
Editor's Note: This article reprinted with permission of Police1
It is well known that there is an obesity epidemic in America. According to the National Institute of Health, more than one-third of adults are obese. It’s a serious issue that plagues the law enforcement profession due to long hours, working variable shifts and high stress.
One study by the FBI estimated that more than 80% of American cops are obese. This threat to officer safety requires action. Getting started is tough – making a lifestyle change requires a shift in mindset – but it is not a fight police officers are destined to lose. There are some easy steps that every cop can take to improve their physical health – from nutrition to activity. It starts by self-reflection, acceptance and dedication to making lifestyle changes that will benefit the officer’s overall health.
Here are four fitness habits that all police officers must adopt to improve overall health and fitness. Before beginning any new workout program, you are highly encouraged to get a physical exam from a medical doctor.
1. Alternate Workouts
It is imperative cops work out regularly each week, especially given the demands of the job. While there are several types of workouts, the fundamental rule is that fitness should include a balance of two types of workouts: cardio and resistance. The workouts must vary because repetitive training often results in overuse injuries and possible boredom.
Beginners or individuals who have not worked out in the last 30 days should start slow to build up physical endurance. Intermediate and advanced fitness enthusiasts need to also add variety in their workouts to encourage new muscle growth, prevent overuse injuries and prevent burnout.
2. Perform Cardio Exercises
Cardio is meant to get your heart rate elevated and is not limited to one type of exercise. The CDC recommends a minimum of 150 minutes of cardio per week for all adults. This should be planned over several days throughout each week and the exercises should vary either per workout, per week or per month.
Performing different cardio exercises often will prevent overuse injuries and prevent the body from adapting too much to a specific type of workout. The idea is to keep your body guessing to encourage muscle growth, maximize calorie burn and to challenge yourself physically.
Cardio workouts include jumping rope (have you ever seen boxer skip – it’s awesome), cycling, kettlebell, running, jumping jacks (or other plyometrics), rowing and elliptical. All cops need to include cardio in their workouts. Variety is the key to making a lifestyle change.
3. Incorporate Resistance Training
All cops need to lift weights or engage in some type of resistance training. On average, it is estimated that up to five percent of muscle is lost every decade after the age of 30. Because of this, it is necessary to make resistance training part of your workout routine.
A balanced resistance training program will target several muscle groups in the lower body, the core and upper body. Examples of resistance training exercises include bench press, push-ups, rows, pull-ups, bicep curls, tricep extensions, shoulder presses, lunges, squats, deadlifts and calf raises. Even yoga is a form of resistance training. This is by no means comprehensive, but it’s a good starting point. One of my favorite and often visited websites has a fairly comprehensive exercise database.
4. Use the Correct Athletic Gear
Workouts require different types of athletic gear. For example, running requires running shoes, skipping (jump rope) should be done in cross-trainers, and every cyclist must wear a helmet. Compression socks or sleeves help prevent stress fractures and a yoga mat will help prevent a disastrous fall and keep you centered. Another piece of equipment that all cops should consider is the Fitbit or other fitness tracking devices. Fitness trackers encourage you to move and they hold you accountable. While they are not 100 percent accurate, they are an excellent tool for cops to use when making lifestyle changes and tracking daily fitness goals.
Fitness is a lifestyle change for many cops. It takes time to adopt the fitness lifestyle mentality, but after a couple of weeks of implementing a dedicated routine, it becomes a habit.
All cops need to make fitness a part of their routine and fight the obesity epidemic. A cop’s level of fitness can mean the difference between life and death on any given day.
Heather R. Cotter serves as the Executive Director of the International Public Safety Association, a 501(c)3 non-profit. She’s been working with public safety professionals for several years and understands the challenges agencies and resource constraints agencies continue to face. Heather has a Master's degree from Arizona State University and a Bachelor's at Indiana University, both in Criminology.
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*This article, originally published 12/08/2016, has been updated.
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