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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.

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  • 03 Nov 2021 11:18 AM | International Public Safety Association (Administrator)

    By Sarah Saunders, Telecommunicator, Grays Harbor E-911, IPSA Member

    If you have worked in a 9-1-1 center, you can probably think of a few times when the center door has closed behind a co-worker and someone in the room immediately had something to say about them. Sometimes it is just a quick snarky comment, but sometimes it continues the entire time the person is out of the room. Gossip is one of the most detrimental things a co-worker can do. It brings down the morale of the center, causes rifts between employees and never brings anything positive to the work environment. Gossip is a waste of time, energy and focus. Gossip causes hurt feelings, irreparable damage to someone’s reputation and it can damage the reputation of the agency.

    Gossip has existed a long time, but Socrates challenged others to think about the need for gossip when he said, “Gossip dies when it hits a wise person’s ears.” The truth is, gossip has probably existed as long as there have been humans around to hear it. It will probably continue as long as there are people alive to hear and discuss it. That doesn’t mean you can’t stop it from happening in your presence.  When someone is brave enough to challenge others to stop using vicious and damaging words, it also challenges them to think about their need to gossip. 

    So how do you effectively stop gossip? Let’s talk about how dispatchers can wise-up and kill gossip the moment it starts. Here are seven tips and methods to stop gossip in its tracks and help your communications center thrive and survive in a gossip-free dispatch environment.

    Seven tips to stop gossip

    1. Change the subject. Dispatchers have been taught to veer away from certain conversations with callers when it is detrimental to the call. This is no different. Allowing these conversations to take place is detrimental to the work environment.

    2. Remember your goals. Dispatchers want to be the best they can be at their jobs. They want to excel and grow, serve the public and make a difference. So, with those goals in mind, remove yourself from the conversation. Idle minds tend to gossip, so don’t lose track of your goals and ambitions. Keep yourself busy, and you will inevitably remove yourself from these painful conversations.

    3. Ignore it. Dispatchers don’t have to engage with co-workers when they chose to talk about someone else. While it’s not uncommon to want to be included in the room conversations, it can be guaranteed that at some point, you will also fall victim to your co-worker’s gossip and vicious words. If they are talking about one dispatcher, they are likely talking about all dispatchers, so don’t engage with them.

    4. Walk away. Have a plan or exit strategy in place ahead of time. If other’s start to gossip just walk away, or if you are inside the communications center, just turn away, back to your console.

    5. Focus on solutions, not problems. Not only do we have to treat our co-workers with empathy and compassion, but if someone is truly having a problem, we should try to help the employee and not just gossip about them. How can you help them to be better? If someone has been showing up to work late consistently the last two weeks, maybe your co-workers are right to be upset or concerned, but did anyone ask why? Did anyone ask what they can do to help him/her get there on time? Dispatchers don’t need to act above their wage, or step on the toes of a supervisor. Just treat your co-worker with compassion and help them problem solve. You might just be able to save their sanity or their job.

    6. Be the example. One of the best ways to stop gossip in the communications center, is to not get involved. It is impossible for anyone to stop gossip if they are an active participant. When someone starts in about a person’s sudden interest in dating a fellow first responder, just stop them in their tracks.

    7. Encourage positive conversation. By encouraging positive gossip, it satisfies the innate human “need to know” while keeping a positive environment and improving morale. Some examples of positive gossip include, “Hey, did you hear so-and-so had a CPR save yesterday? He/she did telephonic CPR for 10 minutes and he made it! I know he/she will be excited to get a lifesaving pin.” Or “I heard so-and-so got called into the Director’s office yesterday. Someone sent in a letter and flowers for his/her compassion during that difficult call.” Celebrate the successes and the victories of your co-workers.

    It doesn’t matter which of these seven tips or methods you choose to take out of your dispatcher toolbox and use, all that matters is that you use them to stop gossip in its tracks. Everyone has an important decision to make every day, what kind of day will today be? Do we choose to think the best about people, about our co-workers around us, or do we make assumptions that everyone is out to make us have a bad day?  Do we hold each other to a standard that doesn’t include or allow gossip or do we attack those very people that are there with you through thick and thin?

    You have a choice to make every day. Choose to be kind, empathetic and compassionate with your co-workers.

    Choose to be great.

    About the Author

    Sarah Saunders first sat behind a dispatch console at thirteen years old and has been dispatching full-time since 2001. Throughout her career, she has worked in multiple roles in Arizona and Washington, including dispatcher, trainer, supervisor, training coordinator, tactical dispatch team supervisor, certified instructor, systems security officer and CISM team member.

    If you have any tips to share or want to provide feedback, email her at or

  • 05 Oct 2021 9:19 AM | International Public Safety Association (Administrator)

    By Juan Pereira Volunteer First Responder with Central Alberta Sexual Assault Support, IPSA member

    Law enforcement officers work in an ever-changing environment characterized by legal and technological changes and incessant public scrutiny. Such a demanding environment can be draining, even to the most passionate of officers. While law enforcement officers receive training on how to serve and protect per their duty, advanced education is a necessity to navigate the changing environment and increase their efficiency in conducting their duties.

    Law enforcement training in Canada has tremendously improved over the years, as agencies and educational institutions introduce more programs that suit the needs of the modern work environment. Higher education has several benefits that empower offices to be more adept and serving the public.

    Below are five reasons how higher education benefits law enforcement.

    1. Leadership Skills: Higher education offers opportunities for career growth and development, including in the policing sector. Education advances individual’s skills and knowledge in their area of expertise. They gain abstract reasoning, specialized knowledge, and analytical thinking skills that promote their credibility. Consequently, higher education empowers officers to be more proficient in completing their tasks, enabling them to take on leadership roles in their organizations. Examples of such roles are: 

    • Chief of Police/Commissioner/Chief Constable
    • Deputy Chief of Police/Deputy Chief Constable
    • Staff Superintendent
    • Superintendent
    • Staff Inspector
    • Inspector
    • Sergeant Major
    • Staff Sergeant
    • Sergeant/Detective
    • Police Constable 1stClass/Detective Constable

    These advances come with more responsibility, not to mention the increase in remunerations. Further, the officers can participate in policy development to address some of the challenges facing the profession. While looking for higher education programs to enroll in, officers should concentrate on finding those that are relevant to the profession but do not duplicate the skills in which they are already proficient. Such criteria will impart them with gainful value.

    2. Promotion of public trust in police work: One of the challenges of being a law enforcement officer is that the intense public scrutiny can pave the way for undervaluation. When citizens lack faith in the body mandated to serve and protect them, law enforcement officers are constrained from effectively fulfilling their duties. Several professions that serve citizens like nursing, engineering and teaching require people to attain university degrees. However, post-secondary education qualification is often enough to succeed during law enforcement training. This results in a situation where the public perceives policing as a low-quality job. Law enforcement institutions also face more crises in this era of publicizing discriminatory activities. These further dampen public trust. Therefore, it is necessary for more law enforcement officers to be empowered to change the status quo. Education plays a central role in achieving this end. Education cultivates officers to make well-informed professional judgments in different situations, and they have a wide range of knowledge and skills.

    3. Ability to work in diverse community settings: The modern environment is characterized by different forms of diversity. Cultural differences are one of the issues that distinguish one community from another. The experience of police officers varies greatly when working in different neighborhoods. In some instances, officers find themselves conflicting with citizens as they handle issues differently from the norm. Such occurrences can create undesirable friction between the police department and the public. Officers need to establish an understanding of the local community that allows them to perform their duties. Higher education helps them to achieve this through various mechanisms. For instance, it allows officers to develop cultural competency skills, diverse policing models, and problem-solving skills. Additionally, it boosts their communication skills and enables them to navigate conflicts with ease.

    4. Better understanding of the context of police work: The portrayal of police officers in mainstream entertainment corrupts the idea of policing in the minds of young recruits. These individuals are often unprepared for other aspects of police work, such as the documentation of the investigative journey. This issue is magnified by gaps in the system, such as the absence of a mechanism to facilitate accountability by ensuring all officers receive adequate training before enrollment. It is necessary to bridge the gap between perceptions and reality to enable the profession to attract suitable individuals for the job. Addressing the accountability challenge necessitates a definition of core policing and the development of institutions where the officers understand their role. Higher education facilitates this as it has more in-depth training than post-secondary education. The training provided is also research-based, such that it enables officers to achieve desirable ends effectively.

    5. Less likely to use force: Higher education enhances the competence of the forces as it cultivates officers who are more problem-oriented. These individuals are less likely to resort to violent means of resolving conflict. Social media highlights the rampant use of such tactics, which further deteriorate the relationship between the public and the police. Higher education trains officers to think critically and use different policing approaches depending on the situation. As a result, these officers are 30 percent less likely to shoot at suspects or citizens while on duty.

    The benefits of higher education among law enforcement officers are endless. Educated officers make better professionals as they learn several policing approaches that fit modern contexts. They integrate well with diverse communities, cultivating a healthy relationship between citizens and officers. Moreover, officers willing to advance their education do not need to attend physical classes that clash with their work.

    Online programs are available such that officers can learn while obtaining on-the-job skills. The Canadian Association of Police Educators, CAPE, offers a multitude of programs and resources that empower officers with advanced training. As the population is set to increase over the coming years, the country will need more educated officers to serve and protect citizens.

    About the Author

    Juan Pereira received his education background in Police Foundations from Centennial College. He is a student at Wilfred Laurier University working on his BA in Criminology and Policing he hopes to complete his bachelor’s and to dive into his Master of Public Safety with Wilfred Laurier University. He has seven years experience as a volunteer first responder in various public safety organization. He has also been a volunteer with Police Organizations and Crime Stopper Programs. He also has taken on Youth Coordinator Positions and Youth mentorships with other organizations. Email him at

  • 10 Sep 2021 10:08 AM | International Public Safety Association (Administrator)

    Time often has a healing effect. Memory of historic events often fades, but we must never forget the horrific events of 9/11. As we honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice to protect our freedom, we also remember where we were on that tragic day and how it's changed our futures as public safety professionals. 

    IPSA Board Chair and Assistant Chief J. Scott Quirarte recalls where he was on 9/11/2001

    “I was a new fire captain on duty. When the second plane hit the towers we knew we were being attacked. We watched in disbelief; how could this be happening. I quickly realized the crew was looking at me for direction. Honestly, I had no idea what to do so we starting talking about the possibility of an attack on the west coast and what we would do.

    The attack occurred close to shift change so we kept both shifts on duty ready to respond in county or mutual aid outside the county. We waited and watched for the next two days.

    This was the first time I realized we did not really know our counterparts in law enforcement or emergency management. For a handful of us on the department this was the start of our slow road to better integrated response.”

    IPSA Board Member and Ret. Chief Scott Edson remembers 9/11/2001

    "I was a Lieutenant for the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department at the time and was at home preparing for work when the first plane hit the twin tower. I watched on TV in horror when the second plane hit. It was now clear to me we were under attack.

    My duties at the time we're managing the largest law enforcement Data Network in the nation and of course I was now even more concerned with the cyber-terrorism threat. In 2001 cyber-terrorism was fairly new and unfortunately, terrorism was already growing across the Nation. Today, some 20 years later, cyber-terrorism is most popular terrorism because of the veil of secrecy and an attack will likely have many victims."

    IPSA Board Member and Ret. Fire Captain Brad Havrilla recalls 9/11/2001

    “I was on duty as a Firefighter Paramedic on our Special Operations Team at Palm Beach County Fire Rescue doing morning equipment checks at the fire station when we saw the first plane crash into the tower. We were all glued to the tv. My thoughts were with the firefighters that I had ridden with in New York while attending the National Fire Academy. I rode with Rescue 1 and Rescue 3 on our weekend break. Our instructors met us at the WTC and gave us a tour and discussed the1993 terrorist bombing response. When the first tower fell one of the firefighters asked if I thought there were crews still in the building. Unfortunately, I knew they definitely were. Days later, some of my closest friends would be working ground zero as members of the USAR team and the US Marshals Service searching for survivors.

    After 9/11 I decided that what I was doing as a Special Operations Firefighter/Paramedic was not enough. I made a commitment that night to branch into Law Enforcement as a Tactical Medic. It wasn’t easy back then, but I finally was successful. As a Firefighter I attended the National Firefighter Memorial in Washington DC the next year as a member of our departments Honor Guard. I am proud that I could honor those brave Firefighters and their families. I surrounded myself with people who “Never Forgot” and stayed committed to improving the Fire Service.”

    IPSA Board Member and Lt. Bob Marland remembers 9/11/2001

    “I was assigned as an Administrative Lt at our Headquarters. I was watching the news and saw the first plane strike the tower. I had a bad feeling that this wasn’t an accident. I continued to watch thinking through possible operational responses if this wasn’t an accident and then I watched the second plane hit. I was assigned to go through all the courts to locate officers and send them back to their units. I was assigned with deploying units to exterior security at the Federal Reserve, City Hall and the Virginia Capital.”

    IPSA Board Member and Lt. George Steiner remembers 9/11/2001

    “I was living in Chicago in the Wrigleyville neighborhood when 9/11 happened. I remember people leaving the city because we were unsure if there would be any more attacks. The streets were empty, businesses were closed there was an uncomfortable quietness. My wife and I had just started dating a week before 9/11.”

    IPSA Board Member Gregory Walterhouse recalls 9/11/2001

    “On 9/11 I was Deputy Chief of Operations with the Rochester Hills Fire Department and was in a city staff meeting when the first plane struck the World Trade Center. When the second plane struck the south tower, it was apparent it was a terrorist attack and not knowing the extent immediately secured all city buildings. How public safety trains and responds to incidents was forever changed that day.”

    IPSA Board Member Wren Nealy remembers 9/11/2001

    “On 9/11, I was at training with the Houston FBI, supporting them as a tactical medic. I remember this vividly when the Supervisory Agent abruptly stopped the firearms training and called in the team. He told us of the attack and called an end to the training. He advised we were all on standby for deployment. The thought of being deployed to ground zero caused everyone to pause. Going home to pack and explain and tell my family I was deploying was difficult. Even though I couldn’t tell them, they had watched the news and knew where I was going. Being in this ready deployment state for what ended up being 24-hours, only to be stood down, was stressful and something I will never forget.”

    Working together

    Collectively as a nation, we have made significant progress since 9/11 to keep our country safe. This includes improved intelligence collection, information sharing and inter-agency cooperation through Fusion Centers and other means; improved public safety communications, the development of the National Incident Management System, increased funding to state and local governments through the Homeland Security Grant Program and more.

    We have also collectively been successful in averting a major terrorist attack on U.S. soil since 9/11. However, our nation must not rest on a false sense of security.

    We must remain diligent and continue to collect, analyze and share intelligence information between federal, state and local agencies, and protect critical infrastructure against physical and cyber-attack.

    Accomplishing this requires that all public safety disciplines work together cooperatively and synergistically at the federal, state, and local levels as well as internationally with our foreign allies.

  • 17 Aug 2021 9:58 AM | International Public Safety Association (Administrator)

    By Juan Pereira Volunteer First Responder with Central Alberta Sexual Assault Support, IPSA member

    Public safety personnel (e.g., border patrol, telecommunicators, corrections officers, firefighters, emergency personnel, ambulance crews, law enforcement and frontline medical workers) are frequently subjected to various psychologically traumatic events (PPTEs). These events include witnessing violent behavior and moments of accident. Other employment constraints that may impact public safety mental health include shift work, tight scrutiny, occupational stigma, intimidation and harassment.

    Regardless of the high prevalence of exposure, few scientifically validated strategies and programs are in place to prevent post-traumatic stress injuries (PTSIs) in public safety.

    Anxiety and depression, melancholy, physiological reactivity, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), suicide ideation and attempts, and regressive survival techniques, such as drug and alcohol usage or avoidance can all result from PPTE interactions.

    Public safety personnel deserve medication and services that are efficient, timely and cost-effective. This article investigates peer support as a viable technique for first responders who have PTSD and operational stress injuries in the public safety sector. Although many businesses offer mental health resources, stigma and concerns about confidentiality can hinder public safety personnel from taking advantage of these services.

    Peer support groups

    Public safety personnel are more inclined to communicate their sentiments and problems with someone who has gone through comparable situations, like firefights, than with people who have not.

    Peer support groups rely on experienced counterparts to form a beneficial bond with people who have endured terrible events by providing empathic and behavioral assistance, support, and optimism.

    A physician specialist or a colleague can lead the support group approach. Gatherings typically comprise only 10 to 15 individuals and regularly assemble, such as once a month, to enable and provide a welcoming forum for engaged conversation. Individuals may be members of a weekly meeting session or be eligible to join on a drop-in basis, depending on the organization's setup.

    Some organizations serve a diverse community, while others target a specific subgroup, such as women or individuals with disabilities. Engaging in a social or peer support group can encourage people to trade healing and survival skills with others going through the same thing. Group sessions can also be utilized to initiate a one-on-one dialogue with an expert or group figurehead.

    Support for operational stress injury program coordinators, for example, meet with RCMP workers and members one-on-one to address their issues and provide information about pertinent recovery and surviving choices. As a result, these support groups are valuable since many people feel better after airing their concerns, issues, and experiences and discussing them.

    This support group effort uses similar experiences to foster connection, decrease discrimination and create a long-term platform for receiving aid and sharing information about assistance programs and constructive recovery and survival skills. Simply by providing a place for discussion, support group activities can promote awareness and reduce discrimination among the intended demographics.

    Because of similar circumstances, peer support group members "converse in similar dialect" as those they are aiding, promoting an atmosphere of sincerity and trust. As a result, group members are more likely to notice changes in a member's behavior and manner. Social support groups are also vital for organizational coherence and management competency, both required for PTSD rehabilitation.

    Stigma reduction

    Peer support groups, through a national strategy for OSI, can encourage first responders and the public to talk about mental and emotional wellbeing and the risks that come with it to raise awareness and make it acceptable. According to BC First Responders Mental Health, these program participants and champions may have a better understanding, awareness, and commitment to mental wellbeing. This understanding of the situation is based on an individual's past, encounters with a significant friend or colleague, or previous success in establishing organizational culture. Therefore, these advocates can inspire and motivate their peers while providing social support by raising awareness of mental and emotional wellbeing.

    Integrity and trustworthiness are required to establish fruitful support group connections and develop healthy peer-to-peer dialogues. Support groups benefit individuals, peer supporters, health care providers, and the greater community. This service supports the member by broadening the spectrum of social interactions, offering information to encourage healthy adjustment, survival, healing activities, and providing information on possibilities outside the direct peer partner. Conversely, peer supporters can feel empowered by assisting a peer while strengthening their self-confidence and resilience.

    Society learns from a person's participation in a counseling support group, whether it is individual themselves or the individual's relatives, family, and friends. The benefits are healthy connections and well-equipped people to regulate their emotions.

    Joining a support group allows people to be more effective without interruptions caused by depression, sadness, drug misuse, addiction, and dependency.

    Additional interventions

    Various separate interventions have been devised as highlighted by International Public Safety Association. Most initiatives include a wide range of peer support and psychiatric therapies aimed at helping people in distress. The activities and accompanying assessments have differed widely in research methodology, intended audience, length of education, scheduling of programs, results evaluated, and follow-up schedule.

    Nonetheless, the interventions provided can be classified as peer support and crisis-focused mental and emotional therapies.

    About the Author

    Juan Pereira received his education background in Police Foundations from Centennial College. He is a student at Wilfred Laurier University working on his BA in Criminology and Policing he hopes to complete his bachelor’s and to dive into his Master of Public Safety with Wilfred Laurier University. He has seven years experience as a volunteer first responder in various public safety organization. He has also been a volunteer with Police Organizations and Crime Stopper Programs. He also has taken on Youth Coordinator Positions and Youth mentorships with other organizations. Email him at

  • 09 Aug 2021 11:04 AM | International Public Safety Association (Administrator)

    By Sarah Saunders, Telecommunicator, Grays Harbor E-911, IPSA Member

    There are times a telecommunicator must speak to callers in crisis. They may have to calm a caller, negotiate with a caller, or keep a caller from hurting themselves or someone else. This article provides some useful tips for building rapport with all callers.

    One of the crucial steps to managing a caller in crisis is to establish rapport. Merriam-Webster defines rapport as “a relationship characterized by agreement, mutual understanding, or empathy that makes communications possible or easy.” Rapport is a relationship of trust and mutual influence. While nothing about a caller in crisis is easy, the establishment of rapport is an important step. 

    Building rapport

    To develop rapport with a caller, there are easy steps that can be used to help get the caller the best help in the quickest amount of time. Start by getting the caller’s name and give them your name. Use the caller’s name when addressing them. This often will help ground them, get their attention, and bring them back to the conversation.

    The longer the caller is kept on the phone, the better opportunity the telecommunicator has so they can de-escalate the caller and preserve life, while building trust and rapport.

    Active listening

    Once you have the key basic details, let the caller talk.

    When callers are interrupted, they may get the impression that they are not important or what they are saying isn’t important. Pay attention to what the caller is saying and repeat it back to them.

    Make sure to label their emotions. For example, “When you said that you don’t matter to anyone, you sound sad and frustrated.” This allows the caller to know you heard them, and you are taking the time to understand what they are saying. It also allows the caller to correct you if what you labeled or understood is incorrect.

    Find common ground

    People like people who are like them. Finding commonalities also helps you build rapport.

    Telecommunicators can attempt to find commonalities by talking about things they do well, things they like to do, something they have always wanted or wanted to do or something they appreciate. When a telecommunicator finds a commonality, that does not trigger the caller, it is a good idea to pursue that topic further.


    Pay special attention to your caller’s hooks and triggers. A hook is something that your caller wants to talk about. It does not upset them, and it helps keep them talking. This is especially important when the caller is wanting to hang-up to kill themselves or others and you need to keep them talking on the phone. Hooks will vary by caller. They could include topics such as things they enjoy doing, a musical instrument they play, their love for hiking, or the dog they keep mentioning. Any time the caller keeps mentioning something, explore that further.


    A trigger is something that is upsetting or distressing to the caller. It should be immediately apparent when a line of questioning or topic is triggering to your caller. Telecommunicators need to be able to identify when this is occurring and then avoid the topics, if possible, and steer the caller back to a line of conversation that is safe.

    Triggers vary by caller, but often include family or friends, work, or a specific incident. Triggers often include things that the caller feels are out of their control. Just remember to be flexible as emotions are always changing and each caller will be different.

    Unpredictable circumstances

    Telecommunicators can also make a scene more volatile and dangerous for emergency responders. If a telecommunicator is unable to establish rapport or continues to trigger a caller, they are likely to be agitated and unwilling to follow responder’s instructions.

    The author once dispatched a call where the call-taker angered the caller by calling him sir, and refused to stop. Things escalated so quickly, when officers arrived on scene, the subject had barricaded himself inside his residence and was making threats toward the officers and himself. While this is an extreme case, it shows how a telecommunicator’s actions can and do make a difference when officers arrive on scene.

    Don’t be the reason why officers are faced with contacting someone that is agitated and uncooperative.


    Building rapport is the most important step for a telecommunicator to begin the de-escalation process, and it is even more important when you have a caller that is resistant to law enforcement or emergency response. They may say things like, “If you send the police, I will kill myself.” Once you have successfully established rapport with a caller, they will typically cooperate and understand why the telecommunicator had to send a police or emergency response.

    Part of building rapport is allowing your caller to talk and felt heard. This may mean that telecommunicators are going to hear things that they don’t like, don’t want to hear, are disturbed by or don’t agree with. Callers in crisis often have pent up emotions and feeling. They may use profanities, yell, scream or cry. Let them, it is cathartic, and the caller needs to feel validated and heard.

    Dispatchers are the critical link that connects callers to much needed help, and effective rapport building skills will only make this link stronger. Building rapport with callers takes time, but it is worth the effort.

    Establishing rapport serves to calm your callers and makes them more willing and able to follow your directions. Building rapport is also important for responder safety. As already mentioned, callers may be resistant to police response. This resistance can be overcome by building rapport. This helps the call-taker and the responders and can ultimately aid in a peaceful ending to a very volatile call or event.

    About the Author

    Sarah Saunders first sat behind a dispatch console at thirteen years old and has been dispatching full-time since 2001. Throughout her career, she has worked in multiple roles in Arizona and Washington, including dispatcher, trainer, supervisor, training coordinator, tactical dispatch team supervisor, certified instructor, systems security officer and CISM team member. If you have any tips to share or want to provide feedback, email her at

  • 09 Aug 2021 7:44 AM | International Public Safety Association (Administrator)

    By Gregory L. Walterhouse, Associate Teaching Professor, Bowling Green State University, IPSA Member

    As employers are modifying or lifting work-at home orders, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and Centers for Disease (CDC) control have issued guidance for both employers and employees. Universal precautions include social distancing as closer contact and longer interaction with others increases the risk of COVID-19 spread, have hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol available, wash hands often and avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands and sneeze or cough into the inside of the elbow.

    Workforce COVID-19 education

    Notwithstanding, there are some specific precautions employees need to know about returning to work and understand that employers are authorized to establish certain mandates related to COVID-19.

    1. Disinfect high touch surfaces daily including door handles, light witches, counter and desktops, phones and keyboards.

    2. Employers may require returning workers to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) including masks and gloves and observe infection control practices for example regular hand washing and social distancing protocols.

    3. Under federal law, employers may require a COVID-19 vaccination for all employees physically entering the workplace.

    4. Several states have enacted or have pending legislation that would prohibit employers from requiring a COVID-19 vaccination as a condition of employment. A recently updated listing is available here

    5. Employers may provide education materials to employees about COVID-19 vaccines, raise awareness about the benefits of vaccination, and address common questions and concerns and under certain circumstances may offer incentives to employees who receive COVID-19 vaccines.

    6. Employers may measure employee’s body temperature.

    7. Employers may require employees to remain at home if they have symptoms of COVID-19.

    8. Employers may choose to administer COVID-19 testing to employees before initially permitting them to enter the workplace and/or periodically to determine if their presence in the workplace poses a direct threat to others.

    9. Employers may ask employees physically entering the workplace about testing or diagnoses of COVID-19.

    10. Employees may be entitled to a reasonable accommodation that does not pose an undue hardship on the operation of the employer’s business if they are not vaccinated based on an ADA disability or a sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance protected by Title VII. For example, as a reasonable accommodation, an unvaccinated employee entering the workplace might wear a face mask, work at a social distance from coworkers or non-employees, work a modified shift, get periodic tests for COVID-19, be given the opportunity to telework, or finally, accept a reassignment.

    11. Employers must maintain all employee medical data, including data collected related to COVID in confidential medical files separate from personnel files.

    Employee mental health

    Mental health must also be a consideration when returning to work. For some employees it will be a welcome opportunity, for others it may result in uncertainty, stress and worry. The American Psychological Association offers some guidance.

    1. Open communicate is essential to reduce employees’ uncertainty and build emotional support.

    2. Develop individualized return to work plans for employees.

    3. Train managers to recognize employees with mental health struggles, which include psychological first aid training.

    4. Educate employees on using the employee assistance program to connect them with needed services.

    5. Employers need to consider if employees can continue to work remotely, offer schedule flexibility, and offer a flex hour after lunch for outdoor activities, recreation or exercise.

    6. Involve employees in discussions about their workspace including physical distancing, lighting, sound masking and furniture arrangement.

    About the Author

    Greg Walterhouse is an Associate Teaching Professor in the Fire Administration and Masters in Public Administration programs at Bowling Green State University. He received a Bachelor of Science degree in Management from Oakland University, a Master’s degree in Legal Studies from the University of Illinois and a Master’s degree in Management from Central Michigan University, and a Specialist Degree in Educational Leadership from Bowling Green State University. Before joining BGSU, Greg had over 35 years experience in various aspects of public safety with 18 years in upper management. The author may be contacted at

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  • 19 Jul 2021 8:17 AM | International Public Safety Association (Administrator)

    By Sarah Saunders, Telecommunicator, Grays Harbor E-911, IPSA Member

    Sleeping is one of the most important aspects of health and self-care. Sleep can be elusive under the best conditions, and when you add in shiftwork, stress, and life in general, it can be even harder to find.

    It can be difficult to get sleep while the sun is out. These tips will help if you are new to shiftwork, new to the night shift, or need a reminder on how to thrive on shiftwork. Follow these simple tricks to help you live your best nightshift life with ease. 

    1. Leave the communications center lights on. It can be difficult to leave the lights on when it is dark outside and you are surrounded by computer screens, but the lights help trick your body into thinking it is daytime and time to be awake. For best results, avoid turning your communications center into a bat cave.
    2. Limit the changes to your new sleep routine. It is easier on your body if you are able to keep your sleep schedule throughout your nightshift rotation, even on your days off. The less major, frequent changes to your sleep pattern, the better your body will adapt to night shift, allowing you to get better sleep.
    3. Darken your rooms at home. Invest in good blackout curtains or blinds to limit the sunshine from coming in your room and allow you to sleep in darkness. The dark room lets your body know that it is time to sleep and will allow you to wake up feeling refreshed and ready to tackle your night shift.
    4. Be consistent. This is important, and unexpected overtime or call-ins can be tricky, but make the effort to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. This is the best way to sleep well and stay healthy and happy.
    5. Take what you can get. Any sleep counts. Any sleep you can get is better than no sleep at all. This means even if you are able to catch an hour when you get home from your shift, a two-hour nap in the middle of the day, and an hour before you go to work, take it. Fragmented and interrupted sleep is better than no sleep at all.
    6. Turn off your electronic devices. You spend your days surrounded by multiple computer screens. Give your eyes and brain a break from electronics. For the best sleep, avoid looking at television, computer and phone screens, for at least one-hour before you go to bed.
    7. Step away from the caffeine. Dispatchers and caffeine seem to go hand in hand, but if you are already struggling to sleep on nightshift, your favorite dose of energy may be hurting you. The effects of caffeine can last up to twelve hours. If you are struggling to sleep during the daylight hours, avoid or limit caffeine while your body adjusts to your new hours.
    8. Shout it out. Finally, if you are working a new shift and changing your normal hours, make sure you tell your friends and family. You might even consider a sign for your door asking your delivery drivers or neighbors to not disturb you by knocking or ringing your doorbell. This will help you avoid distractions and interruptions while you should be sleeping.

    Nightshift, especially in the communications center, can be tough. When you follow these simple tips, you should find sleeping will become easier and you will become better rested over time. To learn more, check out this information about nightshifts.

    About the Author

    Sarah Saunders first sat behind a dispatch console at thirteen years old and has been dispatching full-time since 2001. Throughout her career, she has worked in multiple roles in Arizona and Washington, including dispatcher, trainer, supervisor, training coordinator, tactical dispatch team supervisor, certified instructor, systems security officer and CISM team member. One of the recurring issues that she had to address, regardless of my role, was getting adequate sleep. If you have any tips to share or want to provide feedback, email me at

  • 19 Jul 2021 7:53 AM | International Public Safety Association (Administrator)

    By Gregory L. Walterhouse, Associate Teaching Professor, Bowling Green State University, IPSA Member

    After allegedly failing to include persons with disabilities in emergency response plans, or having deficient plans for equal access to emergency services by disabled persons, a number of public entities have been sued. The basis for most of the lawsuits were alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

    In short, under section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, it is unlawful to deny any person, based on disability, who is otherwise qualified, access to benefits from any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance. While identifying and accounting for people with disabilities within a community can present challenges, it is not a valid reason for not including the disabled in emergency response plans. The following cases provide insight on how to develop emergency plans that are inclusive of disabled persons.

    New York City

    Plaintiffs brought a class action lawsuit against the City of New York for failing to address the needs of people with disabilities in the City’s planning and response to various emergencies including Hurricane Sandy.

    The court found that the City violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Rehabilitation Act, and the New York City Human Rights Law by failing to provide people with disabilities meaningful access to the City emergency preparedness program.

    Specifically, the City’s evacuation plans did not accommodate the needs of people with disabilities with respect to evacuation from high-rise buildings.

    Second, the City’s plan did not provide for accessible transportation for disable persons.

    Third, the City’s shelter plan did not provide for architectural or programmatic accessibility to accommodate the disabled.

    Fourth, the City had no provisions in their emergency plan to ensure persons with disabilities who were unable to leave their buildings were able to access City services after occurrence of a disaster.

    Fifth, the City did not provide for accessible communications at after-disaster resource distribution sites.

    Finally, the City lacked sufficient plans to provide people with disabilities information on the existence and location of accessible services in an emergency.

    City and County of Los Angeles

    The City and County of Los Angeles were also defendants in a similar class action lawsuit that was resolved by settlement agreement without trial. The settlement agreement is 167 pages in length and without going into the minute details of the agreement, Appendix B, Workplan Elements, provides a good summary of the main areas of focus for the settlement agreement and main deliverables.

    First, under the mass care heading is developing a mass care and shelter annex in the overall emergency plan and maintaining a list of shelter sites in unincorporated areas of the county. 

    Second, building a network of stakeholders, establishing and maintaining contact with key stakeholders and planning and conducting workshops and conferences.

    Third, under community education is the completion of a Specific Needs Awareness Planning (SNAP) strategic plan, increasing SNAP registration, increasing SNAP operability, and supporting evacuation planning using SNAP.

    Fourth under communications is conducting a systems assessment and formulating recommendations and providing forums or workshops.

    Fifth, is to make a reasonable effort to conduct, participate in and provide guidance on inclusive drills and exercises.

    Sixth, is to develop a recovery plan annex and conduct training. Seventh is to update the current Access and Functional Needs (AFN) annex.

    Beyond major cities

    Named in a lawsuit among other defendants was Township of Warren New Jersey, with a 2010 U.S. Census population of 15,311 for allegedly failing to provide Mr. Smith who suffered from a disability, with equal access to emergency services that were available to non-disabled persons before, during and after Super Storm Sandy.

    In Shirey v. City of Alexandria School Board, the parents of a student filed a complaint in federal court alleging defects in the school’s emergency plans with regard to evacuations of students with disabilities during bomb threats and fire drills. 

    Guidance by the U.S. Department of Justice

    In addition to the New York and Los Angeles cases, the publication Making Community Emergency Preparedness and Response Programs Accessible to People with Disabilities published by the U.S. Department of Justice provides guidance for local governments, which includes the following. Provide notification systems to inform persons who are deaf or hard of hearing of impending disasters.

    These could include teletypewriter messages (TTY), text messages, email, and direct door-to-door contact and open captioning on local television. Provide plans for persons with mobility, vision, hearing deficits, mental illness, cognitive and other disabilities to safely self-evacuate or evacuate with the assistance of others. Evacuation planning includes identifying accessible modes of transportation including mass-transit and school buses. Develop and maintain a confidential registry of persons who need assistance with evacuation and publicize the availability of the registry.

    Review community shelters for accessibility including parking lots, exterior and interior routes, entrances, toilet rooms and any other potential barriers to accessibility.  

    Plan to staff shelters with persons who can attend to the special needs of disabled persons and can accommodate service animals. As many shelters as possible should be equipped with emergency standby generators and refrigerators to accommodate life-sustaining medical devices and preserving medications that require refrigeration.

    In addition, shelter staff needs training on alternate forms of communication including exchanging written notes, posting written announcements, reading printed material to persons who are blind or have vision deficit, and providing staff proficient in sign language.


    While the guidance provided by these lawsuits and the DOJ are not all-inclusive, they provide a solid foundation for the development of emergency response plans that include the needs of persons with disabilities. Emergency response plan development must include input from all stakeholders and be customized based on local needs of disabled persons.

    About the Author

    Greg Walterhouse is an Associate Teaching Professor in the Fire Administration and Masters in Public Administration programs at Bowling Green State University. He received a Bachelor of Science degree in Management from Oakland University, a Master’s degree in Legal Studies from the University of Illinois and a Master’s degree in Management from Central Michigan University, and a Specialist Degree in Educational Leadership from Bowling Green State University. Before joining BGSU, Greg had over 35 years experience in various aspects of public safety with 18 years in upper management. The author may be contacted at

  • 19 Jul 2021 6:36 AM | International Public Safety Association (Administrator)

    By Christopher Cruz, Cybersecurity Program Manager, Commonwealth of Virginia, IPSA Member

    There is a commonly held belief among cybersecurity experts that cyber-attacks are inevitable. "Things go wrong. You can't explain it, you can't predict it." These words weren't from a seasoned cybersecurity expert though, or a veteran network administrator. Instead, this quote originates from the hit 1997 movie “Twister” starring Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt.

    This sentiment is important for two reasons. First, cyber incidents are increasing in both severity and sophistication. They are also occurring with a greater emphasis on public and private sector entities that represent community lifelines or national critical functions, both of which are core to public health and safety. Second, there is immense opportunity to leverage many of the core concepts from emergency management to make cyber more accessible for emergency managers and public safety personnel and enable delivery of a Whole Community approach to cybersecurity.

    Cyber as a hazard

    While there are several emergency scenarios available for comparison, the best parallels are drawn when thinking about cyber as a hazard much the way one would a tornado.

    Just like a tornado, cyber incidents are hard to predict and can arise suddenly with little or no warning. They can have significant impacts that are extremely localized or more widespread. And, though most tornados occur between March and August, they can strike year-round if the conditions allow.

    This distinction of cyber as a hazard can help circumvent a common belief that cybersecurity is not a public safety or emergency management problem. Nearly all modern agencies have adopted the all-hazards concept for public safety practices, and cyber threats can easily fit into this approach. Similarly, most emergency managers are able to engage in response and recovery work for any number of hazards that they aren't necessarily experts on. This means cyber incidents can still be supported using the same all-hazards management efforts that work for fires, floods, and even tornados.

    Framework alignment

    Many emergency management agencies utilize the five phases, or missions, of emergency management. These are prevention, mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery.

    Comparatively, one of the most used cybersecurity concepts is the Cybersecurity Framework (CSF) established by the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST). The NIST CSF utilizes 5 core functions, these are categorized as identify, protect, detect, respond, and recover. For both the emergency management cycle and the NIST CSF, the 5 parts represent the same concept, which is delivering the core components of a holistic and successful program. Both operate not just as pillars, but as cyclical processes with continuous feedback and development.

    When laid side-by-side, it becomes clear that cybersecurity and emergency management are following the same key steps, essentially dancing to the same song. Recognition of this alignment makes it easy to establish a common operating picture that enhances incident management for hybrid events, those incidents that have both a cyber component and a physical downstream impact. The most recent string of cyber incidents in the U.S. media included a number of these hybrid events, including Colonial Pipeline, Massachusetts Steamship Authority and JBS. Just as a tornado can be a short and devastating event requiring long term recovery efforts, so should one expect to see more cyber incidents that create longer lasting cascading failures in the physical world.

    Whole Community approach

    For both cybersecurity and public safety, preparedness is critical. The Whole Community approach was developed by FEMA to address the increasing scale and severity of disasters, and the systemic threats they create. Cyber incidents are equally growing in scale and sophistication, with greater threats and vulnerabilities being discovered year after year.

    The Whole Community approach recognizes that emergencies will continue to scale beyond the capabilities of a government-centric program. In response, emergency management must deliver a community-driven effort that includes shared understanding, greater empowerment, social infrastructure, mutual assistance, collective preparedness, and enhanced resilience where responsibility is distributed across residents, communities, emergency personnel, organizational leaders and government officials.

    Cybersecurity experts have pushed for more awareness and ownership at the community level, but no significant frameworks have been successful. By integrating cyber into public safety and emergency management, the ability to utilize years of local and regional community engagement and mutual assistance becomes widely available in establishing and enhancing cyber incident response.

    Hollywood parallel

    The most memorable scene from the movie “Twister” is certainly that of the cow floating by in the funnel cloud. If you see the cow, it's likely too late to engage in planning and preparedness activities. Likewise, it may be too late to build a relationship between cybersecurity and emergency management entities when in the middle of a complex hybrid incident. Planning processes that incorporate cybersecurity considerations from the onset will enable better response efforts when a cyber incident does finally occur.

    Please, don't wait for the cow.

    About the Author

    Christopher Cruz is the Cybersecurity Program Manager for the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, assigned to the Secretary's Office of Public Safety and Homeland Security in the Commonwealth of Virginia. In this role, Christopher is responsible for the coordination, development, and integration of cybersecurity capabilities across the public safety and homeland security landscape. Previously, Christopher worked for several Fortune 500 companies leading a variety of security projects focused on insider threat, incident response, critical data protection, and IT risk management practices.

  • 21 Jun 2021 2:06 PM | International Public Safety Association (Administrator)

    By Sarah Guenette, Learning & Development Manager, Calgary Community Standards, IPSA Mental Health & Wellness Committee Member

    Because of the pandemic, burnout is now felt on a global scale. There is no doubt that the world is facing a common burnout from coronavirus restrictions. Burnout, though, is not a new phenomenon created by this public health crisis.

    This article focuses on burnout in the workplace and what agencies and individuals can do to take meaningful steps to combat its effects.

    What is burnout?

    Burnout has been officially recognized by the World Health Organization as an “occupational phenomenon”: “Burn-out is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions:

    1. Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
    2. Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job; and
    3. Reduced professional efficacy.”

    Burnout occurs in several professions, including healthcare and public safety.

    In addition to the other occupational hazards specific to emergency services, burnout is something that can affect a first responder’s work life and home life. It is a condition that can creep up on people unnoticed. It is something that continues to add to cumulative stress already experienced by first responders.

    Burnout is caused by the long-term presence of cortisol in the body. While cortisol is beneficial to have in emergency situations, over time it can deplete the body’s energy reserves as the body and brain never can rest.

    The causes of burnout are varied, but it is often created by chronic workplace stress that has not been appropriately managed. This could be related to heavy workload, lack of breaks or time off and short staffing. In the first responder environment this is exacerbated by a shift work schedule and exposure to traumatic incidents.

    Measuring burnout

    In a 2020 paper on the emotional effects of vicarious trauma on 9-1-1 dispatchers, the author cited a study done in the Los Angeles Police Department 9-1-1 Center. It was found that 43 percent of the participants were experiencing high levels of burnout. Interestingly, this was cited as being far higher than other frontline professions.

    To complete this study and others on the occurrence of burnout, researchers use the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI). Through a series of questions they rate participants on a scale of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and reduced personal accomplishment. This tool is used to measure employee perceptions of their workplace and associated stressors. Once the degree of burnout is determined there is a further measure to assess what is contributing to the burnout: Workload, Control, Reward, Community, Fairness and Values

    In the case of 9-1-1 dispatchers an “overall feeling of being misunderstood and underappreciated” was found to be prevalent. There was also a higher perceived lack of control in that profession that contributed to both burnout and vicarious trauma.


    According to experts, common symptoms of burnout are:

    • Physical exhaustion: Chronic fatigue, insomnia, constantly falling ill, and weight gain or loss
    • Emotional exhaustion: Anxiety, depression, and anger. Displaying more pessimism, cynicism and detachment.
    • A drop in productivity: Forgetfulness, inability to concentrate and pay attention. These can actually increase the workload if allowed to continue.

    What agencies can do

    There are things that agencies can do to mitigate burnout in first responders. Exposure to stress and trauma are inseparably linked to the role of first responder. However, even in this fast paced, adrenaline driven environment there are some things that can be done to reduce the impact of burnout.

    Take breaks: Leaders need to promote an environment within their teams where it is acceptable to take breaks as needed. They can model this by taking breaks themselves and by letting employees see them taking this step for their own health. It quickly has a negative cascade effect on a team if the leader promotes the notion that you should work non-stop and needing a break is a sign of weakness, laziness or lack of dedication. Leaders need to promote a health work environment by encouraging breaks/breathers when operational workload allows for it.

    Sick leave: Agency leaders also need to work on reducing the stigma related to taking sick leave. Taking sick leave can sometimes be perceived as laziness or weakness. Agencies should be encouraging people to take time off when they need it. One survey showed that 84 percent of respondents have gone into work when they are sick. 33 percent of the respondents said that their employer created a culture of working when you’re sick. This may be exacerbated in a first responder environment by a perception of being perpetually short staffed and teammates having to pick up the slack created by the absence.

    Vacation leave: Taking vacation time should also be promoted by leadership. Employees should be encouraged to take paid time off wherever possible rather than banking it out. The lure of the extra income may be tempting, especially to junior members of an agency, but the time away from the job is much more important.

    Team building, support programs: In addition to modelling healthy behavior and promoting time off as needed, agencies can also offer support to assist with some of the factors that contribute to burn out. Programs like health and fitness challenges can promote a healthy lifestyle while leading to some friendly competition and team building. A robust peer support program and employee assistance program provides employees with somewhere to go to discuss their stressors and access resources.

    In the case of the 9-1-1 dispatch profession mindfulness training was recommended as a way to increase their perceived control over their work role. Even though they can’t control what calls come in, they can control the influence that those events have on them through mindfulness techniques.

    What individuals can do

    As individuals, first responders can take positive steps to mitigate the stress factors that may lead to burnout in their lives:

    • Step away from the screens. Take regular quick breaks from phones and computers throughout the day, even if it’s just stepping away for five minutes. This not only helps with psychological health, but also helps to prevent eye strain.
    • Move and stretch. Long periods of time sitting in a vehicle or in front of a computer can contribute to stress on the mind and body.
    • Get outside. Fresh air and being out in the sun are proven to be beneficial in reducing stress. It is important for first responders to do this even on days off, no matter how tired they are.
    • Healthy eating habits can mitigate the effects of stress. When possible pack a healthy lunch and snacks for your shift, rather than ordering fast food. Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.
    • Take breaks with teammates. Social interaction is known to increase positive energy.
    • Play games. Something as simple as completing a crossword or word search can stimulate your brain with something other than work.  
    • Listen to music.
    • Take vacation leave. While the payout or roll over may be tempting, that paid time off is there for a reason and should be taken.
    • Stay home when sick. Taking a break early when needed to recover can prevent more long term sickness/exhaustion down the road.
    • Commit time to activities that are enjoyable and distract the mind from work stressors – hiking, biking, reading, arts and crafts, gardening, exercise, etc.
    • Physical exercise. Research shows that being physically active may help to reduce or prevent burnout.
    • Preserve a social circle. It is incredibly important to have people to talk to, people who can be trusted. Try to maintain friendships that were established before becoming a first responder as this prevents “work talk” from dominating social events.  

    About the Author

    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.

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