When the COVID 19 pandemic first broke in the spring of this year, iIts impact on the 911 community was significant. In March Winbourne published article discussing the changes and issues that the Emergency Communications Centers were forced to deal with in a short time frame. Public Safety organizations were forced to adapt very quickly to the changing scenarios. The impacts were varied including personnel shortages and the operational changes required to cope with the ever-changing requirements that the various agencies were faced with.
Initially, the measures taken to deal with the effects of the virus that were considered emergency operations, have morphed into an on-going environment for public safety agencies due to the continuing health threats of the virus. While the severity of the pandemic lessened in the summer, its severity has recently increased.
Since the initial COVID 19 outbreak agencies have been forced to re-engineer their business processes to accommodate new requirements and new mandates while at the same time maintain the high standards which are demanded of them. This meant looking at the organization from multiple perspectives to arrive at solutions needed to address the varying levels of changes to the operating environment.
The responses involve a wide variety of components from personnel policies, to structure, to daily operational routines, to the deployment of additional technology. Some of the changes involved the use of technology in novel ways. One such agency that has adapted itself to these environmental changes is the Seminole County Fire Department Emergency Communication Center. Over the course of several months, the agency developed a changing, but adaptable Continuity of Operations Plan (COOP). They had found that that the most effective way of dealing with a constantly evolving set of circumstances and communicating with all the members of the team was to create such a plan and put it in writing. Following is a high level recap of the actions that the center has taken to ensure the continued smooth operation of the center.
- Reduce the potential of exposure to the virus within the work environment
- Ensure rapid and constant communications regardless of physical location
- Maintain flexibility in response plans to be able to react to constantly changing scenarios
- Established Travel Policy – if visiting an identified pandemic hotspot; upon return, 14 days of isolation through the utilization of personal time off (*see note below on re-imbursement)
- Implemented restricted Personal Time Off policy that incorporated scheduling requirements and personnel availability
- Enforced strict Establish strict PPE enforcement that included wearing masks except when eating and drinking
- Implemented COVID 19 work policies such as – if not feeling well – stay home
- Developed a structured work check in procedure including temperature checks and proscribed routines when entering a facility
- Published guidelines for work activities such as taking breaks, etc.
- Implemented a full back-up communications center at the start of the Pandemic
- Utilizing the back-up center as part of the current standard operations- Example, alternating daily shifts between the ECC and the back-up center
- Use of partitions between stations
- Implemented remote 911 capability
- Modified initial call taking procedures from asking COVID related questions to treating all incidents as potential COVID exposure
- Provided ability to work from home when job performance was not negatively impacted
- Work schedules were modified to adapt to adapt to changing environment
- Work schedules were changed based upon availability of personnel
- Implemented assigned seating during the shift
- Published a mandatory cleaning and sanitizing policy for workstations and equipment
- Mandated use of face masks (N95) when in the facility
- Use of video teleconferencing (Skype Business) for meetings
- Use of video capability in daily operations to provide virtual and continuous communications regardless of physical location
- Use of technology to enable remote 911
- Additional use of technology to enable work from home
COOP (Continuity of Operations Plan)
- Use Hurricane COOP as the base
- Created multiple plans based upon particular scenarios
- Constantly evolving document that is continually updated
- The primary lesson learned was to allow the needed solutions to drive the operational changes and technology decisions needed to accomplish the goals.
- The required changes needed to accommodate the new reality forced the Emergency Communications Center to change the way the center had been doing business.
- The COOP needed to be flexible and updated on a regular basis.
The COVID 19 Pandemic took the world by storm and surprise and we were little prepared for the huge impact that it would have on our lives changing so much of what do and how we do it. The emergency services community was particularly affected due to its role of the “First Responder”. However, the community displayed its resiliency in the manner in which it responded to and continues to respond to the challenges of the pandemic.
Our thanks to Suzanne Ladd, Program Manager, Seminole County Fire Department Emergency Communication Center for her participation and contributiions to this article.
The continuing COVID19 pandemic has highlighted the urgent need for effective and on-going operational planning within the public safety community. Winbourne Consulting has extensive experience in assisting in the development and implementation of COOPs and related plans. If you are interested in speaking to us about developing similar plans, please contact us at mailto:email@example.com.
*Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA or Act) provides re-imbursement eligibility for up to two weeks of fully or partially paid sick leave for COVID-19 related reasons through 2020. For additional information visit: dol.gov/agencies/whd