In a year of on-the-job dangers posed by a viral pandemic and civil unrest, public safety agencies nationwide are going through massive change. With officers, firefighters and EMS personnel working in extremely volatile situations, many agencies have the added stress of staffing shortages. Some vacancies are caused by the fatigue of managing civil acts of violence. Others are due to employees testing positive for or being exposed to COVID-19.
The inability to back fill vacancies with qualified personnel and equipment is not an option. Scheduling and managing a workforce with these concerns in mind is tough using Excel spreadsheets. Many agencies have adjusted their practices and are relying on technology to effectively manage the safety of their personnel.
Is Your Agency Adequately Staffed?
Scheduling staff for public safety organizations is complex in the best of times. Effectively and efficiently coordinating 24/7/365 operations that requires critical equipment and qualified personnel requires a robust organizational system. Conforming to new guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and calls for agency defunding certainly adds to these complexities.
Some agencies are reevaluating their scheduling methodologies. One example is the Santa Rosa Police Department. After nine of their officers tested positive for COVID-19, a new work schedule to slow the spread was implemented. Now officers work 12.5-hour shifts for 3-4 days, take 3-4 days off, and repeat. They then remain home for 2 weeks of quarantine before returning to work. Less shift changes and smart rotations ensure proper coverage while prioritizing officer safety.
To begin your own staffing assessment, it’s essential to understand your minimum staffing levels and assignment requirements. Next, you’ll want to anticipate vacancies and have a system in place to quickly back fill open assignments with the least impact on your budget. Understanding where your gaps are will enable you to proactively plan by reassigning on-duty personnel or, if possible, recruiting volunteers.
Detailed staffing analytics can be immensely useful for pinpointing needed scheduling adjustments. This can help you identify where and when you’ll need to fill gaps. Technology that automates assignment recommendations based on your scheduling rules will help you minimize potential overtime cost. With this type of proactive planning, you’ll be better able to ensure qualified assignments while staying within budget.
With more than 80% of U.S. fire departments mostly or completely staffed by volunteers, this segment of the workforce has been particularly hard hit. As the pandemic causes more people to stay home out of safety concerns, some volunteers have become unavailable because of the risk to their own or their family members’ health. Others are forbidden by their employers to take volunteer shifts in an effort to minimize workplace risk. If you’re unable to recruit enough volunteers to fill the gap, combining fire and EMS duties could provide some relief.
Are Your Fatigue Rules Being Enforced?
The pandemic has resulted in longer work hours for many first responders. This also includes the number of incidents managed and miles driven … all of which contribute to fatigue. The impact fatigue has on decision-making, critical-thinking skills, and operational awareness must not be taken for granted. This undermining of your employees’ ability can have a life or death consequence on their own and other’s safety.
As you review your fatigue policies, consider your ability to provide ample time off for your employees going forward. Is the time off sufficient to prevent fatigue? What about accommodating leave time when an employee becomes ill or exposed to COVID-19? How are your policies being enforced?
If some employees view your fatigue policies as an attempt to reduce their pay, you must clarify that the purpose is to keep them safe. Some technologies can automate your fatigue rules while coordinating on-duty schedules with their other events. This type of technology will ensure that your policies are continuously and fairly enforced.
Can Staff Shifts with Qualified Personnel Using the Right Equipment?
Even with sufficient overall staffing, efficiently filling shifts with qualified personnel using the right equipment is a logistical challenge. Once again, technology can simplify this process. Most scheduling platforms track employee skills and training. Others track agency assets. Being able to combine operational equipment assignments made to personnel, units or apparatuses with assignment skill qualifications will ensure that your employees and their essential equipment are where and when you need them.
When this type of technology is interfaced with CAD systems, 911 dispatchers have real-time roster and equipment information that helps them quickly dispatch qualified personnel. By automatically synchronizing your CAD system with continuously changing information about on-duty first responders -- including their radios, vehicles or skills, 911 personnel are better able to make knowledgeable dispatches.
Prepare Today for Tomorrow’s Challenges.
Americans rely on the effectiveness and efficiency of our public safety organizations every day. As these unprecedented times shift going forward, it’s critical to use innovative thinking with technology tools that will give you the information you need to best protect and serve your community.
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