By Jim Marshall
This issue of the Journal of Emergency Dispatch points to steady progress in addressing the 911 industry’s pivotal issue: telecommunicator stress and wellness. As you review the articles written by a wide collection of stakeholders—frontline 911 professionals, scientists, and mental health professionals—you will see that a larger community is gathering to answer the most important question facing 911: “What are the psychological risks of doing 911 work and what are we going to do to ensure the well-being of our telecommunicators?”
This current Journal issue is just one example of this growing momentum in the pursuit of answers to this question. Two recent issues of the National Emergency Number Association’s flagship magazine were also dedicated to 911 wellness (The Call: Fall 2015; Winter 2016). Alliance partners NENA and IAED have recently featured entire conference tracks on stress and wellness at their annual conferences. These advances follow the landmark creation of the industry’s first national “Standard on Acute/Traumatic and Chronic Stress,” which calls for all 911 centers to establish Comprehensive Stress Management Programs for their personnel (NENA, 2013).1 Researchers beginning with Roberta Troxell (2008)2, then Heather Pierce and Michelle Lilly (2012)3, followed by Lilly and Christy Allen (2015)4, and now others are affirming the seriousness of 911 stress-related problems and the importance of finding solutions. Mental health professionals are also educating their clinical peers about 911 traumatic stress and how to bring healing to this population with Evidence-Based Treatments, such as EMDR.5
Calling all stakeholders
Such progress is heartening indeed, and now is the time to consider the advancing Next Generation 911 technology. The well-being and peak performance of telecommunicators require that same level of dedicated, coordinated effort by all 911 stakeholders as the highly coordinated planning efforts of stakeholders that have brought NG911 toward its reality.
This fall, the 911 Wellness Foundation will host an industry-wide “Virtual Summit on 911 Stress and Wellness” so that all stakeholders can join to begin shaping a Next Generation 911 Wellness Plan. A full-day summit is seen as an essential event to:
• Launch strategic evaluation of current and predicted stress-related risks for health and performance of 911 professionals
• Define what we have accomplished thus far to address these risks
• Determine what we must do now and in the future as an industry to ensure telecommunicator well-being
• Describe how we will accomplish these objectives through four Streams of Activity: 1) Research, 2) Education and Prevention, 3) Policy and Standards, and 4) Treatment and Intervention
Emergency dispatchers are at the core of our society’s emergency response infrastructure. The success of our 911 system will depend on their well-being. New research suggests that these frontliners can enjoy better health and a higher quality of life than those in less stressful jobs if they are confident and hopeful in the face of these demands (McGonigal, 2015).6 But we must each do our part to prepare them with this mindset. An ancient proverb declares, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”7 =
1 “NENA Standard on 9-1-1 Acute/Traumatic and Chronic Stress Management.” National Emergency Number Association. 2013; Aug. 5. http://c.ymcdn.com/sites/www.nena.org/resource/collection/88EE0630-CA27-4000-BAA7-24FFA3F9029A/NENA-STA-002_9-1-1_AcuteTraumatic_&_ChronicStressMgmt.pdf (accessed May 17, 2016).
2 Troxell R. “Indirect Exposure to the Trauma of Others: The experience of 9-1-1 telecommunicators.” ProQuest Dissertations and Theses. 2009; May. http://pqdtopen.proquest.com/doc/304351154.html?FMT=ABS (accessed May 17, 2016).
3 Pierce HA, Lilly, MM. “Duty-related trauma exposure in 911 telecommunicators: Considering the risk of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.” Journal of Traumatic Stress. 2012; March 29. https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Michelle_Lilly/publication/223980094_Duty-related_trauma_exposure_in_911_telecommunicators_Considering_the_risk_for_posttraumatic_stress/links/53da57c50cf2631430c818df.pdf (accessed May 17, 2016).
4 Lilly MM, Allen CE. “Psychological inflexibility and psychopathology in 9-1-1 telecommunicators.” Journal of Traumatic Stress. 2015; June 28. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25964163 (accessed May 17, 2016).
5 Marshall J, Gilman S. “EMDR Scripted Protocols: Anxiety, Depression, and Medical Related Issues.” Reaching the Unseen First Responder: Treating 911 Trauma in Emergency Telecommunicators. Luber M, ED. Springer Publications. New York. 2015.
6 McGonigal K. The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good For You and How to Get Good at It. Second Edition. Avery; New York. 2015
7 Proverbs 29:18.
Jim Marshall, M.A., L.L.P., is the chair and CEO of 911 Wellness Foundation (911WF). A licensed psychotherapist for over 25 years, Jim directs the 911 Training Institute and educates telecommunicators in personal resilience and 911 call mastery. He co-led a national effort resulting in the 911 industry’s first Standard on Acute/Traumatic and Chronic Stress Management. His upcoming book is THE RESILIENT 911 PROFESSIONAL.