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How public safety agencies can use process mapping to make smart decisions

22 Dec 2020 9:18 AM | International Public Safety Association (Administrator)

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:

  • Staff complete screening electronically on their own smart phones one hour prior to start of shift (this helps reduce exposure from a shared device and identifies sick staff before they arrive at the workplace).
  • If the employee passes screening, they receive a confirmation on their device and they are clear to go to work.
  • Some workplaces may automatically track screening results or may require proof of a passed screening from the employee.
  • If the employee fails screening, they are immediately alerted to the fail and directed to follow up with the appropriate work contact.
  • At the same time, all failed screening are tracked and monitored to ensure the employee does not report to the workplace and potentially expose other staff.

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.

About the Author

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.

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