9-1-1; What Is Your Emergency?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

3 O'Clock & All Is Well! The Importance of Status Checks in Responder Safety

Article from Public Safety Communications Magazine September 2008
CommCenter & 911 Issues Section Written by Bob Smith who is Director of APCO International's Comm Center & 911 Services Division

A vital responsibility of public safety telecommunicators is ensuring the safety and security of the field responders they work with every day. Protecting those responders while providing necessary services to the community they serve requires a telecommunicator to be vigilant and alert, and to expect the unexpected.

One simple way to ensure responders are safe is to establish a systematic process for performing status checks, such as contacting a field unit by radio or telephone at routine intervals during an incident or call or at specified times during a shift. The radio traffic need not be lengthy or complicated. A simple transmission to the responder of "just checking" can suffice. This allows the responder to reply with a simple situational or progress report, such as "Everything's OK,"
"Completing paperwork," "Filling out a citation," or even "Clear from the scene." A lack of response or a response that insinuates something on scene is awry can prompt the dispatcher to initiate a secondary response by backup officers or call for increased response speed by responders already en route.

Status checks have been in place for decades for law enforcement. Most agencies initiate a status check for an officer who has made a traffic stop or responded to a highly volatile situation, such as a crime involving firearms or other weapons. The potential for a routine call to suddenly evolve into a life-or-death situation for an officer grows every day. For that reason, many agencies have implemented a status-check process for all law enforcement calls, regardless of type. The time frame for the status checks may vary based on call type, or a single time line may be implemented.

Many agencies now perform status checks for EMS personnel and firefighters as well. It's a well-documented fact that domestic disturbances are one of the most dangerous call types responders--including EMS providers--handle. Given the dearth of training for EMS providers in self-defense tactics and a lack of protective equipment, the danger may be even greater for EMS providers than for law enforcement personnel. In addition, EMS providers routinely respond to calls involving intoxicated individuals or those in an altered mental state due to narcotics or mental illness. Status checks for EMS providers can be just as effective in ensuring their safety and security.

One type of status check for firefighters has been widely used for quite some time. Personnel accountability reports (PARs) have been primarily used for firefighters at structure fires and are now frequently used for other large-scale or resource-intensive incidents. PARs consist of a status check or time check to the Incident Commander on a regular basis, usually every 10 to 20 minutes, depending on agency policy.

This status check or time check served several purposes. First, it provides the opportunity for a telecommunicator to update the incident record via a situational or progress report. It also assists with responder safety to a greater degree by keeping the Incident Commander aware of the passage of time. The exponential growth rate of fire means that if firefighting efforts have not made significant progress in a 15- to 30-minute window, then fireground tactics need to be reevaluated and a new plan of attack may need to be established.
Example: If a fireground commander has been contacted with two PAR checks that are spaced at 20-minute intervals, the Incident Commander knows that 40 minutes have elapsed and there's a greater potential for building collapse if significant progress hasn't been made toward fire suppression. This reevaluation may result in evacuating the scene and switching to a defensive attack.

PARs and status checks also allow a verbal time stamp to be placed on the incident recording. This is especially important for agencies that don't use a digital logging recorder. These verbal time stamps assist with later quality control reviews or incident investigations.

Most CAD systems today include a status check option. The CAD system can be set to prompt a telecommunicator to perform a status check at specified intervals. This eliminates the need for telecommunicators to track multiple times for individual responders and streamlines the status check process.

The bottom line: Regardless of the type of system used, agencies should ensure these status checks are being performed and that the policy is being followed. Comm centers should implement a structured policy that ensures status checks are performed at set times and include procedures for performing these status checks. Beyond ensuring the safety and security of field responders, status checks help reduce agency liability risks.

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