Dispatcher Stress Coping Mechanisms and Therapies

coolkids_tile_coasterAfter hosting Within the Trenches’ first conference appearance three years ago in Florida and sending about a dozen interviewees Ricardo’s way, I’ve luckily managed this whole time to stay away from the mic myself. Well, he has finally talked me into taking the baby step of being a guest blogger here to let you all know about the International Academies of Emergency Dispatch (IAED) Navigator 2015 Conference (http://www.emergencydispatch.org/NAVIGATOR/) this week in Las Vegas, Nevada, where I will be presenting a session on dispatcher stress coping mechanisms and therapies like EMDR and Psychodrama. I’m Tom, from the Cool Kids of 9-1-1 (Shameless Plug #1: www.facebook.com/CoolKidsof911). After 24 years in this industry, I’m certainly not a kid anymore, and have probably long ago lost any grip on “cool” I might have thought I once held. But give us a “like” and check out all of our other social medias on YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter. Our good friend Dispatch Dana helps us with those sites and hashtags. We post about current 9-1-1 events almost daily, and aren’t afraid to be a little edgy with our opinions, photos, commentary, and parody songs. You definitely want to see the parody song video.

Now, I have to say that IAED’s Navigator Conference is my personal favorite of all the major conferences, for a number of reasons. The frequency of it being held in Las Vegas is just one of them. The vendor show is always packed with companies displaying their latest products, the camaraderie of being among other like-minded public safety protocol-believing users, and some truly entertaining and inspiring educational sessions, if I may be so bold to claim so on my fellow presenters’ behalf. Navigator is the conference where I first met PSTC’s Kevin Willett and Lexipol’s Gordon Graham. They have both been instrumental in helping to fulfill my dream of hosting them locally in South Florida at our annual pre-NPSTW miniature training conference (“the Mini C”). All of the presenters are very approachable, and willing to hand out their business cards and contact information for further discussions. Last year I presented 9-1-1:101 The College Classroom Experience, a how-to guide to start a dispatch academy with your local community or state college (Shameless Plug #2: www.911DispatchAcademy.com OnLine class starting August24th!). I also presented Your PSAP is a 747, relating lessons learned from airplane crash investigations and crew resource management and mistake prevention techniques in a 9-1-1 dispatch center.

For this year’s Navigator, on Thursday April 30th, at 1:45pm, I will be joined by Dr. Marlo Archer of the Arizona Psychodrama Institute for a session titled Up From the Pavement, which is named after her self-published book (Shameless Plug #3: www.lulu.com 30% off through May 28, no code required!). Our session will be focusing on stress identification and coping mechanisms for dispatchers, as they relate to the 8 points of the NENA Stress Standard NENA-STA-002, and in light of Dr. Marlo’s own personal experience on the other side of a 9-1-1 call. In 2008, Dr. Marlo was run over by a Buick while on her motorcycle. She chronicled the traumatic injury and her amazing recovery from it, in a series of blog posts that were then compiled into her book. The crash also gave her plenty of time alone with her thoughts to be reflective on her life and family relationships woven in stories throughout the book.

Did you know NENA had a Stress Standard? The handout we are giving out lists the 8 points of this standard, and the document can become item #1 in your On-Site PSAP Educational Materials Library; something you really can take with you! You should be getting at least 8 hours of Stress Management training every year (hey, we’re giving you your first one of these, too!). Are your Communications personnel participating in Critical Incident Stress Management events? Do you have an Employee Assistance Program? How about a Personal Health Incentivizing program? You can bet there will be console treadmills out on the vendor floor to try out.

“More important than any of these tools, however, is the telecommunications employee. The employee can work without any of that technology, but the technology is wholly dependent on the employee to carry out its function.”

These are some of the words that were on one of the final memos I wrote as a 9-1-1 Communications Manager. I don’t think “we” are taking care of our 9-1-1 employees as well as we should. I think we overlook those who are stressed out, and don’t pay enough attention to the real possibilities of compassion fatigue and PTSD in our colleagues and co-workers. Dr. Jim Marshall of the 911 Wellness Foundation introduced me to EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) and Dr. Marlo has personally helped me with Psychodrama techniques.

Attendees appreciate a fast-moving presentation that delivers on what is promised in the brochure abstract. These one hour sessions aren’t a lot of time to delve deeply into these expansive topics. But they can be used to inspire further research, or open up communication with the presenters and share ideas and information. Another thing that bothers me is that often line-level employees who most need this information aren’t the ones chosen by their departments to attend these out of state conferences. I have also seen people in those positions use their time to have their own vacation rather than attend sessions and bring back this information to benefit their centers. To battle against this, my next 9-1-1 project will involve bringing these types of sessions directly to 9-1-1 public safety telecommunicators via an online format, hopefully this summer.

So, if you’re in Las Vegas this week, take a break from the evil slot machines, dice, and card games and come see our session and any of the others Wed-Fri April 29-May 1 at the Paris hotel. If you happen to catch me on a slot machine, please drag me away and we’ll go see a Cirque du Soleil show together!

Please visit the links below and check out Tom and Dr. Marlo on Thursday April 30th, at 1:45pm at the 2015 IAED’s Navigator Conference for a talk you don't want to miss!

The Cool Kids of 9-1-1 - Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | YouTube

Up from the pavement handout (Navigator 2015) - Click here to download