What I Have Learned from Training 911 Communication Professionals

911 Communicators play an essential role in major incident response ...

Published on Sep 11, 2020

“Heroes with Headsets”

The line between life and death in an emergency situation is often drawn by the quality of communication between first responders and those in need. There is constant scrutiny placed upon Police Services facing high risk critical incidents and persons in crisis that have resulted in a growing need to master conflict and crisis communication skills. When verbal encounters become adversarial and escalate, they can often lead to controversial use of force issues or risk to the wellness of employees and the public.  We are now training police officers in crisis communications and de-escalation techniques to prevent escalation of use of force against persons in crisis.

Police Communicators play a critical role in major incident management and crisis communications with persons experiencing mental health issues, suicidal behaviours or in a state of crisis. They are constantly faced with the pressure to gather critical information while also communicating effectively with people in crisis yet they are less likely to be considered for training opportunities like those offered to other frontline staff.

Realistically, communicators are required to integrate suicide intervention tactics and employ crisis de-escalation techniques every day, often with little or no training. We also know that in critical incidents the breakdown in communications to Tactical & Incident Command and contributing to induced jeopardy that can lead to use of force. Verbal de-escalation has become an essential training issue in law enforcement and was included in US National Consensus Policy on Use of Force (January 2017). The policy is the result of collaboration between 11 agencies, including the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) and the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP).

In “A Matter of Life or Death” the Ontario Ombudsman’s investigation into the direction provided by the Ministry of Community Safety & Correctional Services to Ontario’s police services for de-escalation of conflict situations, there were 22 recommendations to the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services. These recommendations addressed legislative guidelines and models, better tracking and assessment and training at all levels of police interactions with people in crisis. Training and the change to police culture was the main goal of the recommendations supported by the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police (CACP).

Although no verbal de-escalation training can ever reasonably be expected to stop all incidents in escalating to use of force, our communities have begun to expect that all first responders receive training in de-escalation strategies. Police communicators need to understand and have an advanced skill set when dealing with individuals who are suffering mental illness or in a state of crisis.

Communicators also play an important role in major incidents and require a comprehensive understanding of the requirements and responsibilities of the Command Triangle, Critical Incident Commander, Crisis Negotiating Team, Tactical Team, Command Post, and Scene Manager in order to understand their own critical roles and responsibilities and become part of the communal team effort and effective resolution of critical incidents.

Communications professionals are expected to know crisis intervention strategies like those used by Crisis Negotiators during a potential high risk incident that may aid in stabilizing the situation. When employed by the first available responder, we know that verbal de-escalation techniques may reduce the immediacy of the threat so that more time, options, and resources can be called upon to resolve the situation. Even though most have never received training, 911 dispatchers and call takers have developed some of the same or better skills as Crisis Negotiators use to de-escalate, build rapport, and move the subject in agitation/crisis towards rational communication that benefits everyone involved.

During a critical incident it often becomes evident that communicators have been left out of training in Incident Command and they often don’t understand the role and responsibilities of all those involved in the Command Triangle at a Critical Incident including tactical response. They need to appreciate how to support the mission statement should they become involved with the subject, victim or witnesses.

I am fortunate to train police communicators in crisis de-escalation, but I have also learned that training in major incident operations is just as important to 911 professionals.

These are a few things I have learned from these incredible first responders;

  • They are viciously protective of their officers; if you don’t help them they can’t protect you. Information sharing is critical. They are your backup.

  • They are part of your major incident team; brief them and keep them in the loop. They will contribute to the success of the operation.   

  • Include them in your debrief; they want to do better too, they are policing professionals who can only improve if they learn from mistakes made.

  • They don’t know what they haven’t been taught. Train them in police operations, tactical response and the language and tactics they will be hearing on the air – they will save your bacon if they understand what is going on and anticipate your needs.

  • Train them in what information is critical to Tactical Teams, Incident Commanders and Negotiators. They often end up speaking to the subject, victims, witnesses and even hostages and they need skills to communicate and gather the critical information that is crucial during a high risk event.

  • They are an incredible resource for intelligence; they have experience dealing with ‘regulars’, neighbourhoods, the players involved and have access to information at their fingertips. Include them on your team; they are a proactive resource who will have information for you before you think to ask for it.

911 communicators, dispatchers and call takers negotiate with people in crisis every day; they have some of the best de-escalation skills, they are part of your team, they want you to succeed, they want you safe, they want to be trained. We appreciate our civilian sisters and brothers in law enforcement, our partners over the air and our heroes with headsets. 

 

 

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