Through the COVID-19 pandemic, public safety personnel (PSP) have shown their commitment to serving Canadians. PSP typically operate in an environment of uncertainty, but COVID-19 has led to PSP taking on tasks outside their usual job description, level of expertise, and comfort zone. PSP have done all of this while facing the risk of infection to themselves and their families.
The COVID-19 Readiness Resource Project (CRRP) was formed by the Canadian Institute for Public Safety Research and Treatment (CIPSRT) to help PSP during the COVID-19 pandemic. In this paper, the CRRP has identified five potential areas for supporting PSP during COVID-19. The recommendations are not definitive, exclusive, or exhaustive, but provide possible starting points for the continued support of PSP.
Recommendation #1: Specialized preparedness training
The rapid appearance of the COVID-19 pandemic meant that PSP and healthcare professionals did not have time to receive specific training. However, PSP may still benefit from training opportunities.
- Just-in-time learning opportunities. PSP can benefit from regular and brief (re)training opportunities on the latest guidelines, developments, and most effective strategies for dealing with COVID-19.
- Decision-Making Aids. Decision trees and algorithms, approved by leadership, may help PSP deal with uncertainty and anxiety about the current crisis.
- Being Mindful of the marathon. PSP must be trained to navigate the pandemic long-term, while still providing immediate responses to emergencies. PSP may need additional encouragement to monitor their health and engage in self-care.
Recommendation #2: Communication
Communication during challenging times must be easily understood and consistent. Clear communication allows people to remember key messages and take effective action.
- Sustain communication. Keep communication frequent, consistent, transparent, and interactive. Leadership should encourage questions, discussions, and suggestions from their personnel to better understand PSP needs.
- Express Empathy. The pandemic may limit the opportunity for PSP to show empathy towards citizens. Finding other ways to display empathy (e.g., body language, speech patterns) may help reduce tension and encourage positive interactions.
- Leverage media. Traditional and social media can help promote altruistic, ethical and public-spirited behaviour. Media can also deliver important information to help maximize public safety.
Recommendation #3: Leadership and team-building
Leaders play a critical role in helping PSP remain resilient and effective in the face of challenges.
- Remain visible, available, and current. Ensuring leaders are visible and provide empathy, structure, and supportive communication to their members.
- Support basic needs. During times of extended crisis, leaders must encourage and support good habits like eating, resting, and recovering. Leaders also need to understand the challenges faced by individual PSP (e.g., childcare, household commitments, and community engagement).
- Social supports. Normal social supports can be compromised by social distancing and self-isolation requirements. Leadership can help by supporting members, encouraging peer to peer support and, when possible, supporting consistent PSP work cycles and team make-up.
Recommendation #4: Quarantine
Some PSP can experience multiple rounds of mandatory isolation during a pandemic, which can worsen pre-existing mental health challenges. After isolation, PSP may be anxious about returning to work due to fears of being (re)infected and their peers’ reaction to their absence.
- Stay connected. Workplaces should work towards setting up structures to stay connected with people in isolation through regular remote check-ins and peer support.
- Consider the basics. Ensure PSP who are self-isolating can access supports, services, and supplies.
- Address domestic violence and substance misuse. Leadership should remind PSP to get help early and provide information about where to get help.
Recommendation # 5: Self-Care
Daily self-care activities may help offset increased stress from the COVID-19 pandemic. Regularly encouraging PSP to practice daily self-care can help to support their mental health and resilience.
- Healthy Coping. Encourage good nutrition, hydration, regular exercise, and leisure time. Healthy coping strategies like relaxation techniques and stress management, can help.
- Maintain routines. Routine can provide a sense of structure, control, and predictability amid the pandemic’s uncertainty.
- Maintain healthy social connections and help. Staying connected with family, friends, and co-workers is important for maintaining well-being.
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted a dependence on a small number of individuals, including PSP, who maintain public health and safety. The COVID-19 pandemic response has required the development and delivery of creative solutions to meet the evolving needs of PSP.
The original wording of the study was changed and condensed for the current research summary.
Heber, A., Testa, V., Smith-MacDonald, L., & Brémault-Phillips, S & Carleton, R.N. (2020). Rapid response to COVID-19: Addressing challenges and increasing the mental readiness of public safety personnel. Health Promotion and Chronic Disease Prevention in Canada: Research, Policy and Practice.https://doi.org/10.24095/hpcdp.40.11/12.04
Summary prepared by Kossick, E. Reviewed & Edited by Barootes, B., Testa, V., Heber. A. & Carleton, R.N.