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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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  • 14 Sep 2020 2:05 PM | International Public Safety Association (Administrator)

    By Jennifer Leftwich, Graduate Clinical Social Work Student, IPSA Mental Health, Fitness & Wellness Committee Member

    The public safety system evolves in perpetuity to meet the changing needs of communities. Many leading public safety agencies use a combination of empirical data and qualitative information to create standard operating procedures, inform best practices and aid in decision-making processes.

    Collaboration between human services and public safety professions, as well as ongoing emphasis on trauma-informed practices, are important in today’s climate. The current practices of contacting “on call services” post-incident referrals and operating in distant silos are no longer sufficient interventions.

    Globally, interdisciplinary mental health programs have proven successful as both preventative and responsive measures. They bring trained peers and professionals from different systems together to address the needs of individuals who interact with the 911 system. Current events continue to emphasize the need for these multidisciplinary programs and public safety agencies must continue to change their dynamic to address community expectations and priorities.

    What might this look like? To look forward, looking backwards is necessary.

    Gaps in the continuum

    When state hospitals that historically housed and treated mental health treatment consumers closed rapidly during the era of deinstitutionalization, a chasm formed in the human services system/continuum. Ineffective plans and underfunding contributed to increased homelessness and unmanaged serious mental health conditions. Interacting with these individuals rolled downstream to the criminal justice and public safety systems.

    People in crisis call 911. These systems had to expand their scope to include preventing and responding to general social problems creating an overlap with human services.

    Memphis Model CIT was developed as the progenitor interdisciplinary program that secured public safety’s role in responding competently to mental and behavioral health crises. This expansion of scope inspired other models and methods of crisis intervention training and interdisciplinary prevention for a host of social problems that can become life-threatening emergencies. CIT is a staple program and model, but it does not preclude securing more holistic preventative programs at the community level.

    While commendable and heartening in the spirit of compassion, service and protection, and while many public safety agencies do provide psychosocial supports for their communities, traditional human services are not the primary role of public safety.

    Professions trained for this specific work, like social work, provide competent, logistical support to agencies concerning these pressures that may have been incorrectly assigned to them. This removes room for error, or unintentional harm, on the agency. Whatever the originating problem, 911 comes when called. Thanks to collaboration and working together from shared values, every system with a critical role is represented by a professional who makes up the interdisciplinary team composition.

    Preventative and proactive measures through linked spheres

    Being proactive requires knowing the chain of response and continuum of care to anticipate what services are needed next. As the gatekeeper for emergency services, 911 telecommunicators set the tone for a seamless transition of empathic, trauma-informed and crisis-theory supported care. To best prepare 911 telecommunicators for their role as gatekeeper in the continuum of care, a combination of CIT training, psychological/mental health first aid training, knowledge of community resources and an enhanced EMD program are indicated. Developing an Emergency Medical Dispatch supplement, specific to interdisciplinary response, is helpful and should incorporate:

    • Trauma-informed communication.
    • CIT training.
    • Knowledge of the role of co-responders and their scope of work.
    • Psychological/mental health first aid or combination thereof.
    • De-escalation.

    This supports the call-taker in selecting the most appropriate call type with corresponding triage level and responders so that a highly competent and comprehensive interdisciplinary team is dispatched. Through this initial interaction, the call-taker has provided an empathetic, compassionate and competent tone for the caller’s upcoming encounter with responders.

    CIT is a popular choice for an interdisciplinary crisis response program due to its success. CIT brings 911 telecommunicators, law enforcement officers, mental health stakeholders, mental health peers and mental health clinicians together to respond to mental and behavioral health emergencies.

    CIT seeks to ensure safety of all responders and individuals. This approach also helps prevent injury and reduces use-of-force occurrences, ascertaining voluntary help-seeking versus TDO/ECO. Finally, it also creates a path that connects the individual with necessary community and health resources.

    Similarly, co-responder teams for social problems that create connection, show compassion and initiate the sequence of case management or care coordination are prudent. Models that embed the direct hire of a social worker with a graduate-level education are incredibly effective in the communities where these programs exist. Some of these social workers have been dubbed “police social workers,” however, for the purposes of a comprehensive approach, “public safety social worker” is a more holistic title. In addition to behavioral and mental health crisis calls, they may respond to the following types of calls:

    • Domestic disturbances.
    • Homelessness.
    • Sexual violence.
    • Reports of child or older adult neglect or abuse.
    • Other call types that need the immediate attention of a mental health clinician.

    With the clinician’s attention toward the psychosocial-emotional needs of the individual/family, this allows other responders to perform their roles. The unreliable routine of making a referral call to social services and handing someone a pamphlet is replaced with the presence of the actual clinician trained to engage, assess and help intervene with solving these problems.

    Advocacy for providing field placement and clinical training opportunities within public safety agencies at the undergraduate or graduate level, as well as developing courses designed for public safety cultural competency and interdisciplinary work are indicated.  

    Embedding a social worker within fire-rescue agencies is also promising. These co-responders’ services are indicated for mental and behavioral health crises, displacement due to fire or natural disaster, mass casualty incidents, or domestic assault where the physical wounds of survivors are triaged along with the application of psychological first aid as immediately as possible.

    Additionally, developing community paramedicine programs that employ a clinician for care coordination are a comprehensive and proactive model for prevention. This co-responder model addresses social determinants of health risks that compromise health and safety, which are especially beneficial for rural and/or impoverished individuals, families, and communities.

    Whatever the composition or model of team, the obvious and consistent overlap of required services necessitates responding to the complex needs of communities.

    Strengthening the continuum through shared values

    Interdisciplinary response is a steadily growing facet of public safety, widely endorsed by a variety of stakeholders and participants. Involving community level supports for ongoing case management and care cannot be a disconnected event or be presented in the form of a pamphlet. It must start at the scene (assuming scene safety) in the heat of the problem so intervention doesn’t fall through the cracks but, instead, guides the person along the continuum of care.

    The professionals that comprise interdisciplinary teams share compassion and a moral impetus to protect and better the lives of the people in their communities. It’s why they went into their respective lines of work. Separated by silos along this continuum of care, they address individuals’ and groups’ needs ineffectively and inconsistently. Together in integrated and interdisciplinary work, they are stronger and can promote prevention as well as competent response that is holistic, trauma-informed and provides for safety and well-being.

    Agencies must advocate for the value of these forms of intervention and care, and they need to continue to work from shared visions about the safety and well-being of the communities served.   

    About the Author

    Jen Leftwich is a former Emergency Communications Officer for Powhatan County Public Safety Communications and Powhatan Sheriff’s Office where she formed the agency’s CISM/Peer Support team. She is certified CISM through UMBC and the ICISF, CIT certified, earned an M.A. in Trauma and Crisis Counseling, a Forensic Social Work certificate, and will complete her Clinical M.S.W. at Virginia Commonwealth University in May 2021. She plans to practice clinically and independently with uniformed and protective service populations, while also advocating for continued collaborative interdisciplinary partnerships between social work and public safety. She is a proud LE/Fire/Rescue/Military family member and advocate.

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  • 03 Sep 2020 9:27 AM | International Public Safety Association (Administrator)

    By Brett Clark, Director, Public Sector, North America at Nearmap

    Keeping communities safe is a loaded responsibility in today’s current climate. Whether serving high risk warrants, planning crowd control and road closures, or assisting emergency response, world-class aerial imagery from Nearmap offers public safety officials decision-supporting detail that is reliably up-to-date, and instantly accessible. It’s about finding more peace of mind in planning when you’re working extremely hard to keep the peace.

    Public safety departments across the nation are finding new and better ways to use accurate location data to help keep their communities safer than ever before. Chicago Police Department and Shelby County employed the use of Nearmap and eliminated unnecessary processes to tighten and improve their safety evaluation workflows.

    Chicago Police Department (Illinois)
    Challenge: Improve response times and minimize risk to officers

    Chicago Police Department, the second largest police force in America (after New York), combined Nearmap with its existing GIS three years ago to pull exact mapping data on every emergency call location in the city (an area of over 300 square miles), speeding up response times and giving first responders an instant sense of the environment they were walking into.

    The same data is used to scout locations for installing crime cameras and is available to the city’s 14,000 police officers. Nearmap easily integrates with other software and data sets from property tax and event management, allowing a high degree of predictive policing. The result of this effort is a murder rate that declined by more than one-third in four years.

    Shelby County (Tennessee)
    Challenge: Outdated, unreliable location maps

    As the largest county in Tennessee, it was imperative for Shelby County to have access to true location intelligence in their dispatch center. The heart of the operation sits in Memphis, home to the Emergency Communications District, which operates the local 9-1-1 emergency system.

    For each dispatch center, the District provides county address location mapping. A secure database contains the exact 9-1-1 address for any associated phone numbers. This database is queried at the time of a 9-1-1 call to obtain the caller’s location. The data is then placed in dispatch and 9-1-1 mapping software to help fire and rescue, emergency medical services and law enforcement get instant access to current, consistently clear aerial maps. Overlaying the imagery with GIS data allows emergency personnel to get to the right locations as soon as possible.

    For years, Shelby County’s aerial image process required a contracted flight to photograph the county areas. Because of the high cost of capturing those images, the county purchased images only once every two years, after pooling resources from various county entities.

    “While the images were high resolution, there were issues with mosaicking the separate images together. And since the imagery was taken every two years, many rural and unincorporated areas were out of date,” said Timothy Zimmer, the GIS Administrator for Shelby County’s Emergency Communications District. With out of date images, the county had to develop alternate methods to locate addresses for the 9-1-1 system.

    Subscription-based aerial imagery and ArcGIS

    With both the Chicago PD and Shelby County, Nearmap provided a better and more efficient way to map routes or plan camera installations for public safety. Having access to stunningly clear aerial content at their fingertips means public safety officials can respond quicker in an event and know exactly what exists on the ground. And because Nearmap captures imagery up to three times a year in major urban areas, public safety officials can compare leaf-on/leaf-off seasonality to track changes and identify any problem areas.

    Beyond clear views and current captures, another big advantage Nearmap provides is the ability to integrate the imagery directly into the ArcGIS suite of products, such as ArcMap, ArcPro and ArcGIS Online. Inclusively, our integration partnership with RapidDeploy, one of the industry’s leading emergency response platforms, allows our products to increase situational awareness. Being able to overlay GIS information onto the high-resolution imagery provides critical insight for planning and scaling operations appropriately.

    “Before Nearmap, we had gaps where we wouldn’t have updated imagery. We’re able to stay on top of new developments, roads, and addresses. Being able to have Nearmap imagery integrated into our GIS systems helps us be much more accurate,” shared Timothy Zimmer, GIS Administrator for Shelby County.

    To learn more about Nearmap and the rich catalogue of aerial data proactively captured across the U.S. and Canada, visit Discover the benefits of integrating true location intelligence into your public safety planning measures, because what you don’t see, could be costing you.

    About the Author

    Brett Clark was employee #2 at Nearmap in the U.S. when it started capturing aerial data in 2014. As company leader in the government space, Brett focuses heavily on the public sector, both with state and local entities. His goal is to help improve the processes and systems used by city and state officials with unmatched visualization of their communities. Brett currently resides in Indianapolis with his wife and three daughters.

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  • 10 Aug 2020 9:26 AM | IPSA Leadership

    By Stephanie R. DeRiso, Captain, United States Army, IPSA Member

    Social, economic and political instability is often identified in developing countries as a major risk factor for the talons of violent extremism to take hold.  As the country faces widespread civil unrest amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, similar contributors to instability are now present in America. In considering this context, public safety professionals must be aware of the pernicious threat of violent extremism growing within American communities.

    As disease control and quarantine regulations have forced many out of work and in to their homes, the internet has become a viable meeting place for many Americans facing the physical, social and psychological factors that make people especially vulnerable to the propaganda and manipulation tactics of violent extremists. Vulnerability factors that can be exacerbated by pandemic conditions include feelings of isolation and loneliness, a desire for guidance amidst too much and often inaccurate information, a low sense of self-worth, a feeling of loss of control and a need for excitement. The internet provides an easy, anonymous forum for violent extremists to groom vulnerable recruits, spread overt and covert propaganda, and even raise funds to support and enhance operational capabilities.

    Awareness, community trust and partnerships

    Public safety professionals, especially law enforcement officers, have a duty to be aware of the threat of violent extremism and its growing capabilities. Law enforcement must pay special attention to disrupt violent extremist organizations and movements as recruiting and operational planning increasingly fester in the virtual realm before actualizing in the real world.

    Common venues for radicalization, like social media accounts and gaming platforms, inhibit the ability of law enforcement to readily identify the signs and indicators of violent extremism that are no longer quite as overt and traceable. As such, law enforcement must be deliberate to enhance trust and communication within and across their jurisdictions to establish and work toward the collaborative goal of countering this concerning trend.

    Community members must feel safe and empowered to bring a potentially troubling Facebook post or Instagram direct message to those tasked with protecting the public and trust that it will be taken seriously. Public safety professionals must also be diligent in developing mutually supportive relationships between public safety, law enforcement and homeland security agencies at all levels.

    Deliberate, enduring partnerships across agencies and echelons is especially critical as stove-piping information, as famously identified in the 9/11 Commission Report, is an unnecessary and unacceptable barrier to ensuring community safety. Additional guidance on leveraging community policing concepts to counter violent extremism can be found in this 2014 Department of Justice publication.

    Recognizing threats

    In tackling increased threats gaining momentum on the internet, public safety leaders must ensure their employees are educated and trained to recognize the unique verbiage, symbolism and rhetoric that indicate affiliation with and a call to action for violent extremism. Recall when the FBI was mocked for an arguably inaccurate and out of touch glossary of almost 3,000 entries of supposed internet slang maintained by the Intelligence Research Support Unit. Senior leaders must leverage the unique access, awareness and understanding within the junior ranks to keep their finger on the pulse of trends and nuances of social media within the evolving, increasingly complex ecosystem of the internet. This is especially important when higher echelons and formal research have not caught up.

    Targets for attacks

    While protecting the public is top priority, public safety professionals must also be diligent to protect themselves across their ranks. Not only are law enforcement professionals viable targets for attacks perpetrated by violent extremist individuals and organizations, but current and former law enforcement present a lucrative recruiting pool.

    Historically, current and former military members have been recruited to enhance the operational and strategic capabilities of criminal gangs and racial supremacist groups. Public safety professionals trained in military and policing tactics are also especially attractive enlistees in movements emerging from internet forums and materializing in the real world. One such virtual-to-reality movement is the far-right, libertarian, anti-government leaning and largely internet born and bred Boogaloo Boys.

    Members previously trained and experienced in military and police tactics represent an opportunity for violent extremists to leverage these skills to enable operational capabilities to enhance the spread and validation of group ideology. Further, it is not a stretch to say that many public safety professionals are especially interested in firearms and protecting the rights afforded to Americans within the Second Amendment. Connecting with likeminded individuals, familiar and amenable to organizations built on camaraderie and hierarchy, on internet forums can lead to subtle indoctrination, slow creep toward radicalization and deliberate grooming of even the most ideologically moderate of people.

    It cannot be emphasized enough that all disasters are local. Public safety professionals at the local level must be especially diligent to seek out information and understand the threat landscape emerging on the internet; state and federal authorities are not always in tune with local nuances or as readily able to notice shifting dynamics as so many communities have moved online in the current pandemic context. Local interference cannot be accomplished without leveraging community support, pursuing awareness of the virtual domain, and understanding the vulnerabilities and motivations that lead individuals and groups towards violent extremism.

    About the Author

    Stephanie DeRiso has served in the U.S. Army for 8 years. She enlisted as a Mortuary Affairs Specialist and served at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware before earning her commission in to the Military Police Corps. As a Military Police Officer, she led law enforcement operations in Fort Stewart, Georgia and across Europe in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve. She was selected as a Joint Special Operations Command Cultural Support Team Specialist and served on training and combat operations alongside special operations units throughout Afghanistan in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel. Most recently, she is pursuing qualification as an Army Special Operations Civil Affairs Officer at the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Criminology, Law, and Society from George Mason University and is nearing completion of her Master of Professional Studies in Emergency and Disaster Management from Georgetown University.

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  • 06 Jul 2020 12:51 PM | International Public Safety Association (Administrator)

    By Lawrence Nolan, Ph.D., Program Manager, Capstone Corporation, IPSA Member

    In the United States, public safety organizations have bodies of water within their jurisdictions that present hazardous and enforcement issues that need to be managed. 

    In accordance with the U.S. Geological Survey, the surface of the U.S. is covered by 264,837 square miles of water or 7 percent of the surface area of the nation. In addition, the United States Coast Guard Publication 3-0 Operations identifies the U.S. Marine Transportation System that includes 95,000 miles of coastline, with 361 ports and 12,000 miles of an of interconnected system of inland rivers and intracoastal waterways.

    These bodies of water, in or around states and municipalities, take the form of an ocean, gulf, bay, sound, inlet, lake, canal, reservoir, river, stream, creek, swamp, wetland or pond. Given the varying types of bodies of water, public safety organizations need to consider several safety, environmental and enforcement issues.

    Issues, policy considerations

    An important governance function in a jurisdiction is addressing public safety aspects for the bodies of water that are within its boundaries. This includes mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery. Below are examples of hazards:

    • Meteorological (severe storm, hurricane)
    • Hydrologic (flood, storm surge, tsunami)
    • Technologic (fires, toxic releases)

    In addition to managing hazards, public safety organizations are responsible for the enforcement of laws and regulations applicable to bodies of water in the jurisdiction. These actions allow public safety to manage commercial and recreational boating, natural resources, pollution, crimes, critical infrastructure, search, rescue and recovery.

    Multi-agency coordination
    In many instances, public safety management is a joint effort. Federal, state and local governments coordinate and collaborate in managing the water in and around the U.S. Coordination and communications between and within each level is key to address management responsibilities. The sharing of public safety resources in the form of mutual aid agreements allow for economical management solutions.

    Below is a list of organizations commonly involved with the with coordination, planning and management of various bodies of water:

    • U.S. Department of Homeland Security (U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Customs and Boarder Protection, Federal Emergency Management Agency)
    • U.S. Department of Transportation
    • U.S. Department of Interior
    • Environmental Protection Agency
    • National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration
    • Marine police and rescue
    • Fish and wildlife
    • Environmental protection
    • Natural resources
    • Search and rescue
    • Fire departments  

    Each entity must manage and balance risks, resources, personnel, safety, enforcement of laws and regulations and other factors.

    2020 incidents in bodies of water

    To appreciate how public safety is managed across the nation, public safety incidents on bodies of water in May and June 2020 are provided below from news organizations.

    • A massive fire on San Francisco Pier 45 in May 2020 required 45 fire engines to extinguish the flames. San Francisco Fireboat 3 was used to protect the historic WW II ship, Jeremiah O’Brien, which was moored at the pier as reported by KRON4.  
    • In May 2020, Prime Patriot reported that Virginia swift water rescue crews safely evacuated 20 hikers trapped in a flash flood caused from a heavy rain storm.
    • In Connecticut, the Fairfield Fire Department Engine 1 and Marine 217 responded to a kayaker who fell off his boat and became separated without a lifejacket. A drone was launched to locate the kayaker who swam to rocks offshore and was rescued in May 2020. The Bridgeport Fire and Police Marine units also responded to the incident and were in coordination with the U.S. Coast Guard according to the Connecticut Post.
    • A U.S. Coast Guard helicopter from Traverse City, MI rescued a kayaker that had fallen from his boat in the Georgian Bay off Ontario Canada in May 2020 as reported by
    • Detroit News reported that the US Customs and Border Patrol stopped a boat and Canadan ma June 2020.
    • Eight Jacksonville, FL firefighters were injured from an explosion while fighting a fire aboard a cargo ship docked at a pier on Blount Island. Approximately 150 personnel, numerous engines, and three fireboats from the Jacksonville Fire Department were involved in extinguishing the fire according to FireRescue1.
    • A 30-foot vessel radioed a mayday while taking on water in the Grand Traverse Bay of Lake Michigan in June 2020. The U.S. Coast Guard dispatched a ship and helicopter to the scene and were joined by another boater to rescue the 10 passengers before the boat sank according to the AP.
    • Seattle Police responded in June 2020 to a suspicious bag on the shore of Elliot Bay according to Fox News. The police found human remains in the bag and dispatched a police boat to the area which recovered another bag containing human remains floating in the bay.

    Public safety management responsibilities for the waters of the U.S. is a coordinated effort of federal, state and local governments working together to allow for commerce to flow freely, preservation of natural resources, and safe commercial and recreational boating.

    The U.S. Coast Guard is a leader on the nation’s waters and exercises unique capabilities as a member of the U.S. DHS and one of the six armed forces of the U.S. Department of Defense.  Its missions are to protect those on the sea, protect against threats from sea, and protect the sea itself as addressed in United States Coast Guard Publication 3-0 Operations.

    Ensuring public safety on the waters in and around the United States is a collaborative effort requiring vigilance and collaboration.

    About the Author

    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. 

  • 06 Jul 2020 12:41 PM | International Public Safety Association (Administrator)

    By Jennifer Leftwich, Graduate Clinical Social Work Student, IPSA Mental Health, Fitness & Wellness Committee Member

    “Be strong, my heart. You’ve survived worse and kept your nerve.” Odysseus

    With the evolving pandemic, recent civil unrest, natural disasters, continued violence, economic uncertainty, and the lack of uniformed leadership, we are arguably living in a perfect storm of uncharted waters. There is no map to guide us. There are no search and rescue teams coming to save us. We cannot send a distress signal, but there is a survival kit: moral identity and moral expectations, or also known as, the moral compass.

    Moral compass

    While chaos and danger continue to threaten us, the moral compass protects and guides public safety officials through hardship. The moral compass is a shield of the human condition. It grounds a person. It cultivates courage. It contains values and beliefs about what is treasured and what is to be protected. It aids humans by informing their experience in and assumptions about the world to create purpose and mission to withstand adversity. During these ongoing events and emergencies, the public safety and health officials who have dedicated their lives to protecting citizens’ safety and wellbeing, are possibly vulnerable to questioning their sense of direction in their mission.

    What happens when these emergency responders who work under intensifying pressure for a society that wavers between hero-worship and devaluing, despite their unwavering commitment to society’s protection?

    The answer is a different crisis occurs: moral injury.

    Emergency responders may begin to question their roles in societal suffering and possibly question the validity of their chosen vocations or lives themselves. When pre-existing daily stressors and occupational hazards inherent in public safety work are coupled with the current crises, the risk for moral injury is high, despite the protective factors of adaptability and fluidity.

    Moral injury explained

    Historically, moral injury has been studied and discussed in the context of military servicemembers and veterans. Because moral injury overlaps and co-occurs with symptoms of PTS on a continuum, and because public safety shares spheres of connection with military service like mortal danger, studying moral injury in the public safety population is indicated.

    Distinguishing between the overlaps helps identify the originating problem (the true north) and is critical to assessment and intervention. The more specific and holistic understanding of the person in his or her environment, in relationship to the origin of the problem, the better chance for competent supports.

    From there, other co-occurring disruptions can be assessed and worked through as they relate to the origin. Frankl said, “we cannot infer from a shadow what casts it” that environmental circumstances must be incorporated to create a holistic picture.

    In this overlap, it is possible that moral injury as a multidimensional problem (not a psychiatric diagnosis) may be the precursor to other maladies or vice versa.

    Identifying moral injury

    How does someone sustain moral injury? It is not a broken bone that a person can point at and say, “that’s what hurts.”

    Moral injury is a soul wound that occurs when an authority figure or person with the responsibility of power (either themselves or someone else) commits, witnesses, or fails to prevent a violation of their moral code, in a high-stakes situation where mortal danger is present. Put another way, when “psychological trauma” is disassembled into its Greek origin, it translates to “spirit wound” or “soul wound.”

    It is a normal human reaction to tragedies that occur beyond the reach of human control.

    Mechanism of injury 

    Moral injury is being out at sea in a dangerous storm and the navigation system becomes damaged. The person’s internal compass is broken. This makes it increasingly difficult for a person to know if they are headed in the right direction, let alone where they are; to trust themselves and those around them; to believe their identity, purpose or mission is even justified at all.

    When public safety officials experience this betrayal it misaligns their moral compass; the very part of being human that called them to a life of service. That is when pain and anguish begin.

    The assumptions of control have been breached. Regardless that public safety officials are trained to manage crises, they are still human and there are forces beyond their control. This prompts questions like:

    • Did I do everything I could?
    • Did I make the right decision?
    • Why did I do that?
    • What have I done?
    • How could you make me do that?

    Moral injury symptoms

    Moral injury reveals itself through a continuum of the human condition’s dimensions. Emotionally, feelings of guilt, shame, grief, anger, sadness and despair can be present.

    Common behaviors are self-loathing, loss of faith, loss of meaning, self-sabotaging, substance abuse and self-isolating. Because the spiraling nature of moral injury creates internal dissonance and produces diminished ability and capacity to trust, there is an increased risk for suicide or suicidal ideation.

    Repairing and recalibrating the moral compass

    Public safety professionals are helpers, fixers and protectors. They are brave. Their baseline stress level is the crisis point for most civilians. They demonstrate psychological elasticity and adaptability daily. This is who they are at their core. It lends itself to drive and determination. Their careers are journeys to put their gifts of being clutch under pressure to meaningful use.

    Because public safety officials are still human, damage may happen to their moral compasses. However, this damage can be repaired and recalibrated. This requires accurate input to get back to alignment. Since isolation and a loss of capacity for trust are primary markers of moral injury, it stands to reason that social support through meaningful relationships is tantamount to repair. This manifests through a variety of methods.

    As part of a multi-level integrated triage approach, proactive and well-developed formal peer support is a critical asset to public safety agencies as a first-line support. Peers provide a safe, empathic and normalized relationship and can help refer for additional supports. On the more holistic side, individuals with a moral injury are encouraged to return to old or develop new hobbies and recreational activities and seek spiritual care.

    Clinically, strengths-based therapeutic modalities that focus on fortifying forgiveness, life narratives, acceptance and commitment, family systems, and cognitive-behavioral aspects have been shown to be helpful. Addressing any substance use barriers to wellness is also imperative. These methods of re-forging meaningful relationships and activities can re-ignite the soul and aid in realigning the moral compass. They can spark hope, faith and moral courage. They can bring joy and healing. They direct a person to reconnect with their primary role. They remind a person that despite their vocation, they are a multifaceted living human.

    Going forward

    The concept of moral injury is not new, though it has had many names and faces. That is meant to offer comfort, not to minimize or devalue pain. Humans have historically grappled with the internal anguish of a transgressed conscience. Maybe it is too vast to encapsulate it into one term. No matter what fits best, a broken spirit and rupture in basic trust can have lasting detrimental effects.

    As long as there have been humans with large hearts and deep minds, there has been existential tension and anguish. They survived. They learned they are more than a vocation and that level of assigned meaning to roles is malleable. They used adversity to strengthen their moral courage. They shared their messages so others would find solace. People forget this, get distracted or blissfully hide. Fortunately, even while wounded, the soul knows and will speak through whatever pangs demand the most attention for its moral compass to be repaired. The storm does not become less treacherous. You just become more courageous. You trust your moral compass again.


    About the Author

    Jennie Leftwich is a former Emergency Communications Officer for Powhatan County Public Safety Communications and Powhatan Sheriff’s Office where she formed the agency’s CISM/Peer Support team. She is certified CISM through UMBC and the ICISF, CIT certified, earned an M.A. in Trauma and Crisis Counseling, a Forensic Social work certificate, and will complete her Clinical M.S.W. at Virginia Commonwealth University in May 2021. She plans to practice clinically and independently with public safety and military veterans’ populations, while also advocating for better collaborative partnerships between social work and public safety. She is a proud LE/Fire/Rescue/Military granddaughter, daughter, sibling, spouse, and advocate who grew up in San Diego.

  • 22 Jun 2020 8:44 AM | International Public Safety Association (Administrator)

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

    Public safety events often have stressful and long-term effects on those involved. It is imperative that first responder agencies have a strong internal support system in place for employees. One of the resources to consider is a Peer Support team.

    The theory behind peer support is simple – the power of shared experience. There are multiple models for peer support including internal and external and they range from informal to formal clinical care models. This article will focus on workplace peer support which is a formal and intentional form of support.

    The nature of the shared experience varies with the environment. In first responder agencies, the shared experience is being in the same work environment and having exposure to the stressors related to the first responder role. Peers are there to offer support, empathy, guidance, information and access to resources. In the eyes of a first responder who is struggling, another first responder may be the only person who truly “gets it.”

    Selection, qualifications of peers

    It is well known there is a stigma against getting help within first responder communities. For some of them it is difficult to take that first step to ask for help and admit they are struggling. While the culture is slowly changing, stigma is still a factor. When a first responder finally takes the step to talk to someone, they want someone they respect, trust and who is going to be empathetic.

    When selecting peers an agency needs to consider what attributes other first responders would be looking for in that person. Just because someone wants to be a peer doesn’t mean they will be suited for the role. They need to know and live the values of hope, recovery, empathy and self-determination. They also need to be skilled in interpersonal communication, critical thinking and be supportive of change.

    To ensure the selection of appropriate peers, agencies could consider an application and selection process. This emphasizes the importance of the role through formalizing it. It could entail informal or formal interviews or reference checks with coworkers.

    Each agency needs to decide what training they are prepared to deliver for peers; peer support training is critical. But ultimately successful peers should already have three core traits in common:

    1. The ability to empathize.
    2. The willingness to listen.
    3. The resilience to carry others’ problems along with their own.

    One of the most valuable ways for new peers to learn is to work alongside more experienced ones. It is important that those existing peers demonstrate the values the workforce respects.

    Performance of peers should be managed just like any other work tasks. Peers who break confidentiality without good cause should be asked to leave the team and any complaints against a peer should be investigated through the agency’s usual procedure.


    It is imperative that management, leaders of the peer support team, field personnel and the peers themselves are all aware of the confidentiality rules that each agency puts in place. This should be documented in a policy, procedure or code of conduct which is acknowledged by all peers and communicated to all staff.

    Situations that could lead to self-harm or harm to others should permit breaking of confidentiality. Aside from those scenarios, the leadership of the peer team and management need to clearly define the parameters of escalation so that everyone is on the same page, including employees who may access the team.

    Employees will open-up to the peer about things that they do not want shared, very personal things. Outside of the predetermined parameters where disclosure is mandatory, the peer must keep this information to themselves unless the employee indicates that they want them to share it. If a peer team is seen by employees to be breaking confidentiality, employees will not approach them and will not use them as a resource and the team will no longer be effective.

    Confidentiality is part of any successful psychological health and safety system.

    Necessary disclosure

    There will be times when peers will need to breach confidentiality for safety reasons. How these incidents are handled should be planned to avoid uncertainty in the moment and unintended consequences. These are cases where time is of the essence and the member needs additional support urgently. There needs to be a safety component to these situations whether it is safety of the member themselves, a loved one or the public.

    It is critical that all steps be taken to protect the member’s privacy and integrity. If an incident where a member is in crisis is handled poorly it can undermine the good intentions and image of the peer team. Ensure all peers understand the steps to take when they are faced with a safety sensitive situation.


    Leaders of a peer team need to demonstrate the team is successful, that they are being accessed and that they are considered a valuable resource by employees. In order to obtain this data, a tracking system is needed. Peers can report interactions in a way that doesn’t breach confidentiality. A system of coded reporting where neither the peer nor the employee is identifiable is ideal.

    Tracking is also useful for identifying organizational trending. If peers broadly categorize conversations in the tracking system, it can demonstrate whether there is a particular area of concern within the workforce. This gives management the opportunity to address that trend through training in that area or by offering additional support resources to assist.

    Health of peers

    Peer support team members need to be able to take on the problem of others in addition to their own.

    When there are stressors within a workplace, the draw on them as a resource will increase, not decrease, even though they are dealing with the same stressors. They need to be able to balance supporting others and ensuring that they can stay healthy and use healthy coping mechanisms.

    It is important that peers receive psychological health training so they can understand triggers, warning signs and healthy versus unhealthy coping strategies. If a peer is starting to feel overwhelmed, it is critical that they reach out to another member of the team to talk about it, and if necessary, request to take a break from supporting until they feel more stable to continue.

    For peers to protect their own health, they need to be empowered to establish boundaries with coworkers. Peers are not mental health professionals. They provide timely support to a coworker and help them to identify the resources that they need. Peers should not be expected to support employees through long term psychological struggles. Follow up check-ins with employees are key and should be done after an initial conversation has taken place, but the peer cannot be the sole support for a member.

    Leadership support

    Ideally a peer support team will be an initiative that is strongly supported from the top down. Leaders, especially operational ones, can play a pivotal role in whether an initiative is endorsed by the front line. Having a well-respected leader as a champion of the program will help it succeed. Since a peer support team is a resource to support worker health and wellness, the union will also ideally be supportive, although they may have questions and concerns, especially around confidentiality. If both senior leadership and the union support the initiative that should be communicated to employees along with clear communication about how the team will function.


    Every agency will benefit from having a peer support program. When implemented effectively it can be one of the best resources for first responders to access help, and more importantly, for taking the step to ask for it in the first place. There are many factors to consider in building the team and things that need to be thought out prior to implementing anything. The peer support team needs to be structured to meet the needs of members for it to be effective. With well thought out planning and implementation, a peer support team can become a core component of any agency’s psychological health and wellness program.

    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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  • 09 Jun 2020 7:18 AM | International Public Safety Association (Administrator)

    By Stephanie R. DeRiso, Captain, United States Army, IPSA Member

    As the world faces the COVID-19 pandemic, America is experiencing a series of both peaceful and violent protests across major cities in response to the death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, while in police custody. Public safety professionals to be mindful of operating in situations where their presence may not be celebrated, let alone wanted.

    Answering the call of duty

    When asked why they do what they do, many people in emergency services, law enforcement and the military will offer that they want to help and serve others. However, these professions continue to operate in contexts where the definition of ‘help’ varies widely. Regardless, public safety professionals are required to continue to perform their respective functions of enforcing the law, preventing and investigating crimes, apprehending offenders, maintaining public order and promoting public safety. It is critical that professionals operating within the context of heightened hostilities can refocus their efforts in a healthy way while still performing the roles entrusted to them by the public. Although the following mechanisms can apply to other public safety professions, they will be applied to law enforcement considering current events playing out across America.

    Law enforcement principles, theory and practice

    As law enforcement officers prepare for functioning within potentially hostile contexts, research is a constructive method for preparing the mind. It is useful to research the history of the law enforcement profession to understand its core values, theories and principles. It is also useful to research the region, communities and ideologies prevalent within the operational environment. However, most critical, is researching the intersection of the profession and these crucial factors.

    Research is not considered reading through myriad of polarizing social media posts, but instead truly studying empirical academic research about the policing history, social history, racial segregation, political and economic factors that shape the dynamics at play between law enforcement and the populations they serve. Developing a historical frame of reference for the reactions of communities, allows for mutual understanding and empathy.

    Focus on individual interactions

    While building mutual understanding and empathy, it is also important to consider how one individual can make an impact. Public safety professionals must be diligent to focus on individual interactions and shape the trajectory they do have control over. While one officer cannot personally shape the universal narrative of a stereotypical law enforcement officer, he or she can interact in a way that impacts those perceptions positively. That is not to say that violence should be met with passivity; the use-of-force continuum is a crucial guideline for protecting constituents, officers and bystanders by escalating levels of reasonable action. However, whenever possible, officers must make deliberate efforts to remove themselves from the echo chamber of labels and work directly with the human being in front of them. While stereotypes are a mechanism for making sense of a complex world, they are also a method for eliminating opportunities to exercise critical decision-making.

    Communicating before, during and after shifts

    During polarizing situations, it is important to discuss experiences with colleagues. At the end of an especially challenging shift or operation, taking the time to swap stories about interactions while on the job allows leaders to better understand the evolving environment they are sending subordinates in to. This can open the door to additional resources, to include proper training, education and equipment.

    This also presents opportunities for better scenario planning. While more seasoned officers may have a better frame of reference for making good decisions in stressful scenarios, discussing experiences provides a mechanism for adding others’ experiences to one’s metaphorical toolkit.

    So much of law enforcement training is logically designed to allow for the human brain to rapidly move through a flow chart, selecting or bypassing crucial decision points to make the ethically and legally correct choice all in a matter of seconds. When the boxes on the flow chart are limited, officers may also be limited in their ability to make sound decisions within short timeframes. Open dialogues inform additional mental flow chart boxes.

    Remind yourself why you wear the badge and the uniform

    Getting back to your origins is a critical mechanism for handling situations of increased uncertainty and hostility. Although many public safety professionals are tired, angry and frustrated, there is a reason they have gone through all of the grueling steps to wear the badge and the uniform. There is something or someone that inspired you to willingly walk towards harm, to help people on their very worst day and to trade certain freedoms for those of your community.

    Pull out the old photo of you graduating from the academy or even that horrible photo taken on the first day of basic training. Remember the excitement and hope you held for your future when you started the process and allow those embers to regain their flames. If you cannot do so, it is also important to consider the why and how of this feeling.

    As reported by the Department of Justice, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder impacts an estimated 15 percent of law enforcement officers in the United States today. PTSD can lead to behavioral dysfunction, to include aggression, depression and substance abuse, as well as overall poor decision-making. It is a moral imperative that public safety professionals take care of their mental well-being. The streets you patrol and the protests you respond to should not be treated as a battlefield, but the stressors law enforcement officers face day in and day out can take the same emotional toll.

    About the Author

    Stephanie DeRiso has served in the U.S. Army for 8 years. She initially served as a Mortuary Affairs Specialist at Dover, Air Force Base, Delaware before receiving her commission in to the Military Police Corps. As a Military Police Officer, she led law enforcement operations in Fort Stewart, Georgia and across Europe in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve. She was selected as a Joint Special Operations Command Cultural Support Team Specialist and served on training and combat operations alongside special operations units across Afghanistan in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel. Most recently, she is pursuing qualification as a Civil Affairs Officer at the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Criminology, Law, and Society from George Mason University and will receive her Master of Professional Studies in Emergency and Disaster Management from Georgetown University in May of 2021.

  • 08 Jun 2020 2:36 PM | International Public Safety Association (Administrator)

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

    The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution protects persons against unreasonable searches of their property and effects by the Government. The Fourth Amendment is enforceable against the states through the Fourteenth Amendment. This is not limited to searches by law enforcement officers, but by any agent of the government including fire inspectors and fire investigators in the performance of their official duties. Searches may be administrative, for example inspections, or criminal in nature such as arson investigation. The focus of this article will be administrative searches, but it will touch on criminal searches related to fire investigations. 


    Fire inspectors conduct thousands of inspections across the United States on a regular basis and rarely are they refused entry to perform an inspection. But what if the party in control of the property refuses entry to the inspector? First, the person in control of the property be it the property owner, or a tenant, has a constitutional right to refuse entry to an inspector and cannot be charged or convicted for failing to do so.

    Absent consent, the inspector needs to obtain an administrative search warrant. In Camara v. Municipal Court the Supreme Court held that a city ordinance providing for warrantless inspections of leased residential properties was unconstitutional and barred prosecution of persons refusing to permit code enforcement inspections of a personal residence. The Court further held that the probable cause requirement to obtain an administrative search warrant for an area code enforcement inspection is not predicated on the inspector’s belief that a particular property violates the code, but on the “reasonableness of the enforcement agency’s appraisal of conditions in the area as a whole.”

    Similarly, the Court has held that statutory authorization of warrantless searches of business properties is unconstitutional. In Marshal v. Barlow’s a business owner refused OSHA inspectors access to nonpublic areas of his business. The Court struck down a provision of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act that empowered OSHA inspectors to inspect the work area of any employment facility for safety hazards and violations. However, this does not preclude an inspector from observing areas of a business, without a warrant or consent that are observable by the public. The Court cited Camara and See v. Seattle as controlling. In See the Court held that absent consent the warrant requirement established in Camara also applies to inspections of business properties.

    An exception to the warrant requirement are closely regulated industries including firearms United States v. Biswell, alcoholic beverages Colonnade Catering Corp. v. United States and automobile junkyards New York v. Burger. The Court upheld the warrant exception citing a long history of regulation of these industries and the owner’s privacy interests being weakened where the government’s interest in regulating businesses are heightened.

    Fire investigations

    Entries to investigate the cause of fires must generally adhere to the probable cause and warrant procedure of the Fourth Amendment (Michigan v. Tyler). However, the Court in Tyler established some exceptions to the warrant requirement.

    First, a burning building presents an exigency sufficient to render a warrantless entry reasonable.

    Second, for a reasonable time after the fire is extinguished firefighters may seize evidence of arson that is in plain view and investigate the cause of the fire. In Tyler, the Court upheld a departure of investigators from the scene due to visibility problems and a return four hours later to continue their investigation.

    Third, where the cause of a fire in unknown and the purpose of the investigation is to determine the fire’s cause; and absent consent from the person in control of the property (owner or tenant), an administrative search warrant is sufficient (Michigan v. Clifford).

    However, upon discovering evidence of wrongdoing and establishing probable cause a criminal search warrant is required. Therefore, when investigating under an administrative search warrant and finding evidence of arson or another crime, suspend the investigation prior to obtaining a criminal search warrant.  

    The “reasonable time” exception established by the Court in Tyler may be problematic and investigators should seriously consider the legal ramifications of investigating fires for a “reasonable time” as an extension of the suppression operation.

    First, what constitutes a reasonable time is a question of law that will be determined later by a judge after it is too late for an investigator to correct the mistake. In Tyler, the Court found that a four-hour interruption in the scene investigation was reasonable. However, what about five, six, or more hours?

    In addition, leaving an unsecured scene also compromises the change of custody for physical evidence. In Michigan v. Clifford, the Court held that arrival of investigators to the scene later on the day the fire occurred, to investigate a suspected arson without consent or a search warrant after the owner had taken steps to secure the fire damaged dwelling was unreasonable, and violated the Fourth Amendment.


    In summary, property owners have Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches, which includes administrative searches for code enforcement and fire investigation purposes. Inspectors and investigators should first attempt to obtain consent from the property owner or tenant, preferably in writing for investigations, prior to conducting inspections or investigations.

    If consent is denied, or for any reason is unattainable an administrative search warrant should be sought for inspections or determining the cause of a fire. Once, there is evidence of arson or other wrongdoing that establishes probable cause a criminal search warrant is required to seize evidence and further the investigation.

    Finally, even though the Court has established an exception to the warrant requirement for investigating a fire for a “reasonable time” as a continuation of the fire suppression operations, this exception has potential pitfalls, and obtaining consent or an applicable search warrant are better options. For legal questions on performing specific inspections or investigations, fire inspectors and investigators should consult their local municipal or prosecuting attorney for guidance.

    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 holds 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. 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

  • 04 Jun 2020 10:31 AM | International Public Safety Association (Administrator)

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  • 13 May 2020 9:12 AM | International Public Safety Association (Administrator)

    By Niki Papazoglakis, Principal, Mobility 4 Public Safety

    Text-based messaging, through SMS or third-party apps, is part of our daily lives. In fact, the convenience and instantaneous delivery makes messaging the preferred means of communication for many, including most public safety professionals.

    Challenges with messaging

    Messaging is convenient and operationally effective for public safety. Yet, public safety organizations experience multiple barriers to officially adopting these types of mobile collaboration tools because of technical, financial and policy challenges.

    From a technical perspective, a lack of interoperability standards and identity sharing frameworks make it difficult to even connect the same products across different organizations, much less integrate different products.

    Financial constraints limit the wide-scale deployment of department-issued mobile devices for most public safety organizations, not to mention subscription-based fees for messaging applications.

    Further, many public safety organizations operate under outdated or non-existent policies for personal device use. To get around these organizational challenges, many public safety practitioners use consumer messaging tools on personal and department-issued devices for operational communications. These applications are not secure and because messages are stored on the phone, they leave the user open to having to turn their phone in for discovery. To address these concerns and begin to link together public safety organizations so that they can securely communicate, Bridge 4 Public Safety (Bridge4PS) has built a free, interoperable collaboration application.

    Collaboration tools

    As the Information Age evolved, the vast amount of data has become impossible for individuals to effectively consume. The need to streamline the overwhelming volume of emails and texts led to the birth of collaboration tools including chat-based platforms which allow users to collaborate in persistent rooms/channels. These are typically cloud-hosted and optimized for mobile devices.

    While most industries are adopting collaboration as primary communications tools, public safety has been slower to adopt for a few reasons:

    1. Many organizations do not consider mobile phones official operational communications tools and thus do not provide phones to most personnel.
    2. Many organizations lack adequate personal device use policies.
    3. No platform exists to promote scalable and secure multi-organizational public safety collaboration.
    Need for messaging collaboration

    Recent publications by the Texas Public Safety Broadband Program and the South Dakota Public Safety Broadband Network highlight just how critical these tools have become for many public safety practitioners (see Public Safety Messaging: A New Frontier for Collaboration and Interoperability and Interoperability Use with Mobile Broadband). Both papers cite the operational need for messaging and lack of a viable industry-wide solution.

    Evolving public records laws which encompass messages on personal devices plus the common misconception that Over-The-Top (OTT) apps protect users’ phones from discovery and/or public records requests are leading many practitioners to replace SMS texting with consumer-grade apps like WhatsApp, GroupMe and Telegram. With no real alternatives, these apps are being widely used to fill a significant communications gap despite security vulnerabilities and lack of enterprise administration tools.

    Security, privacy

    To combat security vulnerabilities, some consumer apps are adopting End-to-End encryption (E2E) which encrypts the data from the sender to the recipient(s) mitigating many traditional vulnerabilities. While E2E offers some protection, these apps were not designed with strong security, so vulnerabilities still exist. Regardless of the real or perceived security from E2E, this type of encryption may be well suited for private correspondence but violates many states’ public records laws. Systems with E2E encryption do not store content on a server, thus enhancing exposure of personal phones rather than protecting them.


    Messaging is widely utilized for many types of operations, particularly among individual teams; however, the lack of enterprise features limits the effectiveness of consumer-grade apps when scaling to larger groups. Some public safety organizations are adopting tools like Slack, Microsoft Teams and WebEx Teams which provide value internally, but offer limited scalability across organizations.

    Early experimental deployments of public safety collaboration under the Harris County FirstNet Early Builder and DHS S&T Mobility Acceleration Coalition (MAC) programs delivered transformational results during notable events such as Super Bowl LI, Los Angeles Marathon, Hurricane Harvey and numerous other local events and disasters. Each deployment demonstrated unprecedented interoperability and real-time, multi-agency information sharing. In contrast, a member of the U.S. Forest Service noted in a recap of the 2019 wildland fire season in California that at one point she had nine messaging/collaboration apps for different groups they coordinated with.

    Operational value

    Although the operational value is clear for the coordinated adoption of enterprise-grade, multi-organizational, public safety collaboration, these deployments were only possible under experimental programs not bound by typical constraints like funding and governance. Many stakeholders are looking for an industry-wide platform to use:

    • Daily for regular duty, special events and incident response.
    • Anywhere they may provide mutual aid.
    • With anyone they need to collaborate with operationally.

    Cost considerations

    The lack of such a tool is not because the technology is unavailable. With enough funding, any vendor could build the public safety-specific features, meet industry security and compliance requirements and scale worldwide. The problem is economics.

    Bridge4PS is a free, public safety collaboration platform born out of the DHS S&T MAC project after the loss of momentum for strategic mobility planning when the funding for the subscription-based app was exhausted.

    Bridge4PS provides secure messaging, picture, video, file sharing and voice, video conferencing within a single nationwide platform exclusively for public safety. It is funded by the U.S. DHS and available at no cost to authorized public safety personnel as an alternative to 1) free consumer apps currently used by many practitioners; 2) premium subscription apps prohibitively expensive for most public safety organizations and 3) internal, enterprise tools that do not support interoperability.

    Bridge4PS and COVID-19

    Early deployments of Bridge4PS as a proof-of-concept exceeded expectations. In early 2020, DHS approved the expansion to users beyond the designated proof-of-concept regions of Houston and Los Angeles. Initial deployments for daily operations and special events produced dramatic operational results.

    Just days after the Los Angeles Marathon, where Bridge4PS delivered seamless real-time communications for hundreds of users in 12 organizations across four jurisdictions, the COVID-19 pandemic hit the U.S. Since then, there has been a rapid increase in the number of users and dramatic shift in the types of use cases. It is being used across the country to coordinate COVID-19 response for local, regional and state-level operations.

    Bridge4PS is available only to authorized personnel. All users are maintained in a single nationwide directory. This directory is proving highly valuable in coordinating and disseminating critical information across jurisdictions.

    Disasters are not typically a good time to adopt new tools; however, COVID-19 is straining many traditional planning, response and communications models. Public safety organizations are being forced to find new means of communicating to remain effective despite predominantly remote workforces, reduced staffing from responders being quarantined, highly dynamic operational environments and increasingly limited resources (e.g., staffing, funding and supplies).

    Public safety organizations are using Bridge4PS to securely disseminate COVID-19 related information such as evolving department policies, exposure procedures and various other non-sensitive content to personnel with limited access to department email when off-duty or working remotely.

    As organizations adjusted to the new operational environment, many adopted Zoom for video conferencing. Like consumer messaging apps that were not designed to meet stringent security requirements, users began experiencing video bombing and security breaches that exposed hundreds of thousands of user credentials on the dark web.

    The primary focus with Bridge4PS was to develop a secure, compliant and free public safety collaboration platform that could support nationwide interoperability. This is being achieved by those practitioners adopting it. Once verified and issued a credential, users can create groups and direct messages with any other user(s) in the directory without needing personal contact information.

    Navigating the unknown

    It is unclear how long the COVID-19 pandemic will last, and it impossible to predict its impact on individual communities. Many areas are experiencing increases in suicide, domestic violence and robberies. No one knows what will happen as communities begin re-opening. With wildfire and hurricane seasons approaching, there will likely be an even greater strain on public safety resources as cases of COVID-19 continue to rise in the U.S. and globally.

    One step organizations can take to enhance preparedness and response efforts is to join the thousands of public safety practitioners around the country adopting Bridge4PS. Authorized personnel can learn more at or request access at Public safety has a unique opportunity to avoid the interoperability challenges experienced with radios and CAD and truly harness the power of mobile broadband through mobile collaboration by bridging public safety communications with Bridge4PS.

    Author Biography

    Niki Papazoglakis has been actively involved in public safety technology and communications for nearly 20 years. She has led numerous ground-breaking projects that have helped advance the state of public safety communications and IT nationally including the first regional broadband requirements gathering project which DHS incorporated into its best practices guidance, the first all-digital PSAP with sub-second connections for wireless callers, and the first large-scale operational deployment of PSLTE for Super Bowl LI in Houston which set a standard for the utilization of mobile broadband technologies through seamless interoperability and information sharing. Building on the momentum from her role with the Harris County Early Builder program, Niki has formed Mobility 4 Public Safety, a consulting firm specializing in regional, interoperable mobility strategy and public safety collaboration.

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