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Thursday, October 20, 2016

Mental Health First Aid and Keeping the Force Strong

 Mental Health First Aid
We want to thank Fairview Hospital systems and the Fairview Foundation for co-sponsoring the just-completed Mental Health First Aid classes for first responders. These nationally recognized courses brought first responders together for a full day of learning the facts and myths about mental illness. “This course saves lives” were the words of Fairview CEO David Murphy when he recently described the course. We thank all who attended—and a special thanks to all of the staff from Fairview and to our LMC training and conferences team who helped make this training happen.

Keeping the Force Strong
The St. Paul and Minneapolis Police Departments’ employee resource programs have once again teamed up with the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation to host an educational forum to address alcohol misuse by police officers. I attended the forum last year and highly recommend it. The presentations, panel discussions, and networking helps officers understand the science of addiction, approaches to treatment, and resources available. Register early, as last year’s forum was full!

For more information and to register, visit:

Up next: A Guest Blog by Liz Tadesse on Exposures and Blood Borne Pathogens

Stay safe,

Wednesday, October 5, 2016


Public safety personnel operate in a world of VUCA.
What is VUCA? VUCA is an acronym for describing situations that are Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous. The U.S. Army War College began to study how to lead and operate in VUCA environments in the 1990’s. Understanding VUCA is important to the military, the business world, and particularly public safety. VUCA is driven by multiple factors, but the main forces are the impacts of advancing technologies.

EMS responders, firefighters, and police officers work in VUCA environments all the time. They respond to chaotic and dangerous incidents by “working the problem” as they restore order, and bring calm and caring.

Public safety administrators and chiefs manage, plan, and lead in VUCA environments as they learn to deal with changes. Changes in their communities, in their workforce, in their call loads, and in the types of calls their staff handles all contribute to VUCA. And it is changes in technology that impact their equipment, their knowledge, and even the view that the world now has of many local public safety calls.

Learning to work in VUCA requires:

  • Situational Awareness - In both the long term and short term, VUCA fuels a need for information, risk identification, analysis, and monitoring. It’s knowing and working with your communities and your schools that will increase understanding of the changes. It is active fire inspection and prevention, community medic programs, and community policing. Increased situational awareness can bring clarity to VUCA environments.

  • Knowledge of Your Values - Both your organization’s values and your personal values are affected. VUCA environments are incredibly challenging places in which to operate. Leadership in these environments requires a strong vision—and a vision shared by the team members. In an article on VUCA, Russ Linden used this helpful phrase: “It’s keeping the main thing the main thing.”

  • Being Agile - Agility is closely linked to the above skills as you adjust to new information while keeping the compass on your values. It’s about watching, assessing, and adjusting. Agility requires having as many tools in the mental tool box as you can carry so that you have options.

  • Being Collaborative - This refers to listening to the views of team members and the community. Once again we see the importance of personal and professional relationships and in keeping people first. 

And it is about the phrase we have used in public safety for years: “We eat the elephant one bite at time.”

Up next: Some thoughts from the Mental Health First Aid Workshops

Stay safe,

Monday, September 12, 2016

The Waffle House Index

Craig Fuguate, the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), has been quoted as saying: “If you get to a town after a disaster and the Waffle House is closed, that’s really bad—that’s where you go to work.”

The Waffle House chain of restaurants are located in the southern portion of the U.S. and are subsequently impacted by hurricanes and tornadoes. The company has developed a risk management and disaster preparedness planning that allows them to stay open or quickly get reopen after a disaster strikes. The stories are legendary and come from hurricanes with names like Katrina and Irene, and the names of cities hit by tornados such as Moore, OK or Joplin, MO.

How do they do it? It is a mixture of situational awareness, a company culture, planning, and agility. For hurricanes the planning dictates that food supplies are increased and staged, and generators are moved into place. Tornadoes do not allow much warning time, and their response is more reactionary—including borrowing staff from stores in non-impacted areas, working with their suppliers, and the commitment of their employees to get the restaurant up and running.

FEMA has a color scale for their Waffle House Index:

Green—the restaurants are open and serving a full menu, which means they have power and the damage is limited.

Yellow—the restaurants are open and serving a limited menu, which means there may be no power or limited generator power, and food supplies may be low.

Red—the restaurant is closed, indicating severe damage in that area.

The Waffle House restaurants are equipped with disaster recovery plans that explain how to keep the business open in the event of a disaster, and because of that it is rare for the index to hit red.

The Waffle House experience shows how a company has learned to survive and thrive when things become Volatile, Unpredictable, Complex, and Ambiguous. It’s called VUCA, and it is the subject of the next blog.

Up next: More on VUCA

Stay safe,