Public safety professionals are continually facing evolving challenges, competing priorities, and resource constraints while trying to keep their communities safe. Whether it’s COVID-19 response, public acts of violence, the mental health crisis, or any other safety threat, response teams need to stay at the forefront of current best practices to keep pace with these challenges.
The best way to understand the current experiences and attitudes of public safety professionals is to ask them. That’s why Rave Mobile Safety fielded a national survey of nearly 300 emergency responders (firefighters, EMTs, police officers, emergency managers, security professionals, and 9-1-1 dispatchers) from December 2021 to January 2022. The findings show respondents are experiencing increased workloads at their jobs and need better tools and resources to improve response efforts.
Here are the top trends impacting emergency response professionals and their priorities now and in the future.
61 percent of respondents say their job has become harder over the past 18 months.
The pandemic, public perceptions of law enforcement, and hiring and staffing were the biggest contributors to respondents’ jobs becoming more difficult. In light of police protests and discourse surrounding law enforcement since 2020, most (88 percent) respondents are concerned that public perceptions of first responders and law enforcement are impacting their ability to keep their community safe. So, how are communities going to address these growing concerns?
Understanding that Public safety requires community involvement and engagement many communities are focusing on solutions and services that help build a trusting relationship with residents. Building these relationships and improving safety technology and services in the coming year will be a priority for across the nation.
72 percent of respondents believe first responders and mental health professionals together are best suited to respond to emergency situations involving mental health crises.
The mental health crisis was a top concern for survey respondents, and they shared a few consensus opinions in their approach to addressing it. Many communities have taken new approaches to response efforts by partnering law enforcement officers with mental health professionals for certain incidents. Most respondents believe first responders and mental health professionals together can best respond to emergencies involving mental health crises.
These partnerships are just one of the ways public safety departments and agencies are improving responses to mental health emergencies. Teams are also increasing training, providing additional information about a person’s mental and physical health, establishing crisis intervention team programs, and increasing community engagement.
Even with this as a priority going forward, 70 percent of respondents say their agency or department is not familiar with 9-8-8, the suicide prevention hotline. 9-8-8 enables people experiencing a mental health crisis to call or text specialized operators working alongside 9-1-1 to ensure the person gets the appropriate help. This resource will be officially available nationwide by July of 2022.
Respondents also overwhelmingly say information on someone’s mental health history would be helpful for emergency response, which relates directly to another key trend identified in the survey, the need for increased collaboration and information sharing.
94 percent of respondents report their agency’s ability for real-time collaboration with other public safety agencies needs improvement.
Better information sharing between different agencies/departments was also named as one of the top changes that would improve public safety operations in the coming year. Information sharing and collaboration provide public safety professionals with the context they need to effectively respond to an incident. For instance, if they are supporting someone in a mental health crisis, having access to information about past incidents that may have occurred in neighboring jurisdictions would be critical.
So, what is preventing this collaboration? The survey found a lack of technology, lack of funding and resources, and unwillingness from departments were the primary barriers to enabling collaboration. Without the necessary technology, responders will continue to face challenges sharing data during an emergency, a time when real-time information and immediate action can be lifesaving. Interoperable systems, information sharing, and improved background about those impacted by an emergency are a few of the ways technology can support teams to respond more effectively. With the right solutions, teams can be better equipped to work together and serve their communities.
The unwillingness of departments and agencies to collaborate illustrates the need to shift mindsets and view public safety as a collective effort that transcends geographic boundaries or job titles. Agencies can break down siloes to collaboration by making it easier for stakeholders to decide what information they are sharing and when.
New strategies are needed to fill the gap between expanding responsibilities and contracting resources.
As this survey reported, public safety continues to grow increasingly complex with new stakeholders and incidents to consider. Teams will need to find innovative strategies to meet the needs of their communities with relationship-building, new partnerships and the latest technology. To read the full survey findings, click here.
The author, Todd Miller, is SVP of Strategic Programs of Rave Mobile Safety