As the frequency, scale, and complexity of major crises increase, public safety agencies must prepare or risk falling behind. While some crisis management strategies never change, plans developed yesterday might not work today or tomorrow.
Here are five possibilities agencies must prepare for:
1. An influx of non-emergency calls
As the public learns more about a crisis from friends, family, and social media, their response might rapidly jump to panic. This can lead to a rise in non-emergency calls, which can quickly overwhelm agencies and PSAPs who must maintain their standard of service, despite the situation. For example, the 112 center in Milan, Italy, doubled the number of received calls in one day when the first case of COVID-19 was diagnosed in the country.
Some PSAPs find themselves answering fake calls by social disruptors sowing discord. Concerned citizens also call PSAPs for information because they don’t know where else to go.
To avoid this influx of calls, leaders must provide clear, coordinated, and timely information. In addition to regular media briefings, agencies can set up informational hotlines, websites, and apps, which should decrease calls to emergency centers by allowing citizens to gather the information themselves.
Additionally, call-takers and dispatchers must be vigilant in extracting vital information while being patient with callers. Updating their workflows to ensure they ask the right questions can help maintain standards while also equipping responders with the information they need in the field to protect themselves.
2. Vulnerability to cyberattacks
In the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak, the U.S. Health and Human Services Department experienced a cyberattack “aimed at undermining the response to the coronavirus pandemic and may have been the work of a foreign actor.” Attacks on essential agencies are becoming common during periods of crisis. To that end, an agency’s IT manager should:
- Stay alert to hacker attempts to infiltrate systems via email. Make sure users verify all addresses are legitimate before opening and don’t open attachments or click links from unknown senders.
- Review cybersecurity policies with all employees, share updated best practices, and make them aware of potential threats.
- Maintain systems and ensure the latest updates are installed.
For additional information on boosting PSAP cybersecurity, check out this blog by Dan Retzer, senior vice president of global product development.
3. Communication contingencies
What if a crisis prevented call-takers and dispatchers from physically working at a PSAP or command and control center? Communication with the public can’t stop. Now, with the ability to remotely access their CAD system and just a few tools (phone, computer, headset with microphone, reliable Wi-Fi network, and a router with the latest firmware), call-takers and dispatchers can work from almost anywhere.
With web-based tools and mobile apps, PSAPs can share updates of active incidents in real time. This assures workflow productivity and facilitates faster and smarter decision-making.
4. Government mandates
Government mandates during a crisis, like restricted travel, enforced curfews, etc. often impact public safety professionals. If that happens, leaders should:
- Prepare staff that they may need to alter their normal routes. Provide them with information about their new responsibilities and encourage mental readiness.
- Provide analytics access to employees so they can take stock of how incidents and crimes change each day / week.
- Update SOPs and collaboration protocols to reflect changes in demands and operations, while also expecting the unexpected. The sooner an agency identifies and adjusts to new realities, the less likely it is to fall behind in a crisis.
5. Operational impacts
The stakes are high during major crises. Agencies are judged – sometimes fairly or unfairly – on the way they respond and handle all aspects of an event. Agencies must demonstrate they are capable of managing a crisis through its life cycle, no matter how long it lasts.
Preplanning becomes a necessity when anticipating crisis events. Anticipating and mitigating problems can dramatically reduce impacts on resources, staff well-being, and communities. Additionally, providing employees with unified operational information is crucial because it encourages collaboration between scattered departments.
Finally, leaders should recognize employees are just as important as the public. Personnel should receive the understanding and compassion needed to promote mental health well-being during what is likely to be a stressful time.
To learn more about leadership during times of crisis, listen to the Public Safety Now podcast episode “Leading public safety organizations through tough times.”