New Report on Officer Wellness – The things you don’t know that you don’t know

During a week of emergency management training in Texas last year I was reminded of a key principle of preparedness: In all aspects of life there are things that you know, things you simply don’t know, and there are things that you don’t yet know that you don’t know. 

The below report and interview with  Redding, Connecticut Police Chief Doug Fuchs reminds us that we struggle most with the things we don’t know that we don’t know. 

New Report on Officer Wellness: What it Means for Your Agency

By IACP Guest Blogger Laura Usher, Manager, Criminal Justice and Advocacy, The National Alliance on Mental Illness, Arlington, Virginia

This week, the COPS Office and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) released a major report on officer mental health after mass casualty incidents. The report, which draws on the experiences of chiefs involved in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting (Newtown, Connecticut), the Aurora Theater shooting (Aurora, Colorado), the Sikh Temple shooting (Oak Creek, Wisconsin) and many others, provides guidance for chiefs on the unique role they play in safeguarding officer wellness while managing the aftermath of these incidents.

To help us understand the importance of this report, I talked to Redding, Connecticut, Police Chief Doug Fuchs. Chief Fuchs is a resident of Newtown, Connecticut, site of the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting and was on-scene shortly after the incident supporting Newtown Police Chief Michael Kehoe. He saw and felt firsthand the impact of the event on officers and the wider community.

Laura Usher: After the Sandy Hook incident, you and other Connecticut chiefs called for a guide to dealing with these incidents. Why?

Chief Doug Fuchs: We did not know what we did not know. And we know that there are so many other chiefs, especially in medium-to-smaller agencies who also do not know what they do not know. For example, it was so important to have one person to stand up and become the incident commander for all first responders’ mental well-being, and it was challenging to make that happen in short order.

Very early on, we received many offers of help from around the country. People just showed up and said, “We are law enforcement mental health providers and we are here to help.” We dismissed them because we had no way of knowing what their background was, whether they were legitimate, and what their expertise was. It took us a few days to identify someone for that role – someone we knew and trusted to tell us what we didn’t know.

Those of us who have experienced this want to make sure people are able to learn from our experiences. Even though you might be impacted by an event, maybe you won’t be impacted in the same way in which we have been.

Usher:Can you tell me about some of the negative impact on officers who responded to the Sandy Hook shooting?

Fuchs: It was unfathomable. Going in, many responders had no idea of the impact the event to which they were responding was having on the outside world. Once that was realized, the impact it had on individual responders was exacerbated. It never goes way. When you deal with one of the smaller and not heavily covered events, it impacts the officer or the agency, but there’s not constant media attention. The fact that this guidebook is coming out three years later – like so many other triggers ─ means these emotions will come back. Don’t get me wrong – everything about this guide is positive – but know that those of us who have contributed to it will feel differently than most every time we look at it. Each time there’s a mass shooting, the two words “Sandy Hook” get mentioned as a benchmark and it brings it all back again. It’s hard to explain, it’s difficult to imagine, and tough to figure out exactly where to “put” it. But we all do – and we do it to keep it a part of our world and not a part of those whom we serve. And for that, we should all be extremely proud.

Usher: What is the most important message chiefs should take from this guide?

Fuchs: So many things! Understand the importance of caring for your officers and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Know your neighboring chiefs and know them well enough to be able to show up without thinking you need to ask. Identify who in a crisis is going to be your point person for mental health. You can’t be building relationships during the incident; you need to be building them beforehand.

Usher: If the likelihood of these incidents is rare, why should chiefs focus on officer wellness?

Fuchs: Unfortunately, the likelihood of these incidents is not so rare anymore. And it doesn’t need to be a big event that gets media attention to have an impact on your officers. Officers are dealing with difficult calls and other peoples’ sorrow that impact them every day. As we now know, those types of calls build up and weigh on officers. Learning how to deal with that on a daily basis will help you if you are ever confronted with your own mass casualty event – you’ll have figured this out already.

Usher: Do you think chiefs have a special role to play when a neighboring agency experiences a mass shooting?

Fuchs: We have a huge role because we control resources outside of that community. It’s our job to make sure that the affected police department has what they need, manpower-wise, equipment-wise and that officer-to-officer, supervisor-to-supervisor, chief-to-chief, everyone has what they need emotionally to get them through to the other side. I think in part it is because of our role in society; we are not the most trusting of others who are not also law enforcement. So having a brother or sister law enforcement officer show up and say “I got this” is far more significant than one could ever imagine.

Credit: IACP Blog / Laura Usher

New Report on Officer Wellness: What it Means for Your Agency

A New Effort to Bring Care to First Responders in Need

http://calibrepress.com/2016/05/a-new-effort-to-bring-care-to-first-responders-in-need

1stAlliance seeks to ensure those who need care get they care they need

By Karen Solomon

More than 240 million calls are placed to 911 each year in the United States alone: 240 million instances in which a first responder can be emotionally and/or physically injured. It happens more often than people realize. Once a first responder is traumatized by what he or she experiences, where do they turn to heal their wounds? Should they be burned in a fire or struck by a bullet or knife, what happens next? It’s a question they often ask themselves.

In my experience too many of injured and traumatized first responders will sit alone in front of a computer looking for someone to help them. They will seek someone who understands and won’t look upon them as if they are weak, who knows how to get them what they need without broadcasting it over the radio. It’s not an easy task. When they are in crisis, it becomes frustrating to the point that some will give up. Some will commit suicide.

Firefighters, peace officers, emergency medical technicians, corrections officers and dispatchers too often find themselves standing over an abyss of turmoil from which they can’t walk away. We’re going to change that. We’re going to find them the help they need. It’s a simple concept: A central database that doesn’t store any of their information and can point each and every one in the right direction.

What We’re Doing

Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Deputies Steven Hough and Jeffrey McGill know what it’s like to experience a critical incident and find themselves without the proper assistance to recover. They longed for a collaboration of the first responder resources scattered around their country, and a way to reach the people who need those resources. I joined them to form 1stAlliance, and from there a database was born.

Thanks to a collaboration with another injured officer, Bourne Massachusetts Officer Jared P. MacDonald, 1stAlliance is a 501(c)3 charitable organization whose sole mission is to provide a way for first responders to find their way out of the darkness.

On June 1 of this year 1stHelp.net will be launched: a free, confidential way for first responders to find emotional, financial and spiritual assistance. If they’re in immediate crisis, they’ll be provided with a 24/7 resource to call. If they’re not in immediate crisis, they’ll be able to enter some basic criteria and be matched with resources that match their needs. They can take their time selecting the best fit. But, most importantly, they’ll have a starting point.

This endeavor is not a short-term bandage. We have partnered with Avatar Computing and plan to develop this into a free, downloadable app over the next six months. Avatar has been incredibly generous and will be redesigning both sites, logos and assisting with the long-term development of the organization. We’re also collecting suicide statistics, and we have a five-year plan to provide baseline data that can tell us a story about what’s happening to our first responders.

We also want to hear about the PTSD experiences of first responders. Those stories help us understand where we should focus our efforts. Our goal is to find out what first responders need most, identify those resources, and present them in a simple, confidential manner. No judgement. No fear of reprisal.

Conclusion

It’s important to note that we aren’t competing with the established organizations. We are instead providing a vehicle for more people to find them. We have nearly 100 vetted resources in the United States, Canada, and Australia that are trained to assist first responders. What became a quiet national project is blossoming into a global endeavor. Through the chat forums that will be installed this summer, providers can collaborate best practices and ideas on a global scale, all with an eye to improving the quality of life of those that serve us.

If you’d like more information, please feel free to visit our website http://www.1alliance.org or contact me at karen@1alliance.org. This project has been funded to date through private donations and we continue to seek long-term corporate partners.

We are also providing free informational cards to any individual or department that would like to hand them out to their members. These cards bear our logo and the website and are a handy reminder that you are never alone. Simply visit our website and we’ll find you a safer outlook.

Do you provide services to first responders? Register for inclusion in the database here. If you’re a first responder, bookmark our site, share your PTSD story with us or let us know when someone completes suicide. Our success is your success.