The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted every aspect of life for most Americans and our nation’s emergency responders particularly have been affected by the disease. Like first responders working in the field, 911 professionals (i.e., telecommunicators, aka call-takers and dispatchers) working in public safety communications also have suffered. Many 911 authorities that are already experiencing dramatic staffing shortages are struggling to keep the coronavirus out of their emergency communications centers (ECCs) through the use of masks, social distancing, enhanced cleaning measures, temperature checks, and quarantining measures.
However, while taking these precautionary steps as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is critically important, it must be followed up with prioritized access to vaccines to help prevent 911 professionals from falling ill.
Mission Critical Partners (MCP) applauds the efforts of several states that specifically and expressly directed their health departments to include the professionals working in 911 operations in the same group as in-field first responders. Referred to as Group 1B in many states, this group includes frontline essential workers who are at high risk of contracting COVID-19.
Unfortunately, not all states formally recognize 911 professionals as first responders. Until they do, additional actions must be taken to ensure that these essential workers are eligible to receive vaccines as soon as they are available. Telecommunicators are our nation’s first first responders—they are the first people on scene during an emergency, regardless of their physical location.
For example, State Senator Cheryl Kagan, chair of Maryland’s Next Generation 911 Commission, took action to request that the state’s Department of Health includes 911 professionals in the earliest distribution of vaccine—and that request was approved.
Based on announcements made earlier this week, additional support is coming from the federal government to enhance the national vaccine rollout. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced on Monday that it is working with the CDC to “assist, augment and expedite” vaccines across the U.S.
This is welcome news as FEMA is designed to assist in national-level emergencies—like the pandemic.
The most notable part of FEMA’s announcement was that the agency will provide “reimbursement to governments for costs associated with vaccine distribution and administration.” Offsetting the cost of vaccine distribution and administration will come as a huge relief to communities already struggling from the pandemic’s effects.
This, at least in theory, should accelerate vaccination rollout—and the faster that 911 professionals can get inoculated, the better—for them and the citizens that they serve. A 911 telecommunicator who has fallen victim to the coronavirus is one that is not available to answer emergency calls. It is imperative that everything possible be done to avoid that scenario.
John Chiaramonte is president of MCP’s consulting division. He can be emailed at JohnChiaramonte@MissionCriticalPartners.com.