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Changing the Landscape of Resilience Technology for First Responders

While the study suggested that the app would be successful, there were external obstacles that the TIAG team faced: the culture surrounding mental health and law enforcement.

The fatality rate of first responders is three to five times greater than the national average. After the 2015 attack on a holiday party in San Bernardino, Calif., TIAG realized there was a huge need for a tool and training to help civilian law enforcement mitigate these terrible losses.

Drawing on its extensive experience with the Defense Department creating apps to help warfighters mitigate the effects of PTSD, TIAG created a mobile tool specifically for first responders to build resilience and help users proactively manage stress, PTSD, and depression.

“We learned that law enforcement faced many of the same stressors and PTSD challenges as active-duty personnel but had few resources available to them,” said Jenn June, senior UX/UI researcher.

TIAG is a woman-owned business founded in 1999 with a mission to provide innovative Information Management/Information Technology (IM/IT) support for large-scale, enterprise-wide IM/IT programs and projects across DoD and civilian governmental agencies. Today, TIAG continues to specialize in transformation, innovation, and streamlining complex mission critical processes. This Great Place to Work-Certified®, ISO 9001/27001 certified, and CMMI Level 3 company has a distinct passion for human centered design and has worked in tandem with departments across the DoD and VA to develop many oof digital behavioral health mobile apps and websites for military, veterans, and families.

From 2011 to 2018, TIAG worked with the DoD National Center for Telehealth and Technology (T2) at Joint Base Lewis-McChord and was responsible for the design, development, testing and deployment of over 20 mobile applications focused on supporting veterans and service members dealing with the symptoms of Traumatic Brain Injury and PTSD.

In the field, first responders have necessary training and equipment – and TIAG felt resiliency as a standard baseline to survive should be seen no differently. mResilience is a dynamic tool designed to reduce the effects of trauma and to help first responders develop crucial skills ahead of time, so that when tragedy does strike the after-effects don’t cut as deep.

mResilience provides the awareness and skills first responders need to understand how stress affects us and breaks down our bodies, friendships, and relationships. With separate law enforcement, firefighter, and EMS versions, departments receive the same core resilience building elements but in a way that honors the differences in culture between the communities. The mobile app acts as a “freezing mechanism” that supplements content delivered in classes, by coaches or pre-recorded content available via the app. The individual user can securely access the full range of organizational content in a manner that empowers them to explore new techniques and engage content.

Once the product was created, TIAG conducted an Institutional Review Board-approved field usability study with two “modest-sized” police departments. The participating departments were selected based on local outreach and engagement in the Pacific Northwest, where TIAG’s mRes team is concentrated.

“Law enforcement officers tend to be inherently skeptical of any technology that could be used by department leadership to monitor users,” said clinical psychologist Dr. Pam Murphy.

The data gathered found that 94 percent of officers felt they gained information in the training that would help them with their job, 87 percent believed the mRes mobile app and training filled a need in the law enforcement community, 79 percent said they would likely use the app personally, and 84 percent would recommend the mResilience program to others. Officers rated the mobile app at the 90th percentile for ease of use.

Not only did the data suggest that law enforcement personnel thought the app was a useful tool, but 100 percent of the officers kept the app on their phone during the study and officers used the app 422 times during the study, viewing on average 20 screens during each use. Overall, officers completed 218 sessions of meditating, practicing breath control, or listening to sounds.

While the study suggested that the app would be successful, there were external obstacles that the TIAG team faced: the culture surrounding mental health and law enforcement.

The solution that TIAG found was to not track individual user data. The only data gathered is through metrics, which tells the team which tools are being used most frequently and for how long.

“Essentially, we protect personal health information and personally identifiable information by never collecting any of it,” said Matt Higgins, a U.S. Air Force veteran and mRes product manager. “We gather no specific user data, no Personally Identifiable Information (PII), no Personal Health Information (PHI). Other than knowing who the authorized pool of users is, the only other analytics are aggregate user metrics.”

The team behind mRes was able to create an app perfectly designed for first responders because of their passion, experience, and expertise. The team is made up of a few key players: Director Matt Higgins, Senior Subject Matter Expert in Behavioral Health Pam Murphy, and Senior User Experience Strategist and Researcher Jenn June, who all joined the TIAG team when TIAG was partnering with T2 in 2012.

Many of the members have personal experience, background with law enforcement, or military service. Higgins was a member of the U.S. Air Force for over 22 years and he was raised around first responders. June also has personal connections to law enforcement. Although Murphy does not have personal experience with first responders, she moved into the technology realm after her career as a licensed clinical psychologist to collaborate on digital behavioral health solutions for military members, veterans, first responders and their families.

“For all of us working here, it’s about what we do and who we do it for,” Higgins said.

Before creating mRes, TIAG created several apps and services that helped veterans through the DoD. Virtual Hope Box is one example that was funded by the DoD Suicide Prevention Consortium. Virtual Hope Box, Breathe2Relax and Mood Tracker have had hundreds of thousands of downloads to date.

The company is a member of the Medical Technology Enterprise Consortium, a DoD organization sponsored by the U.S. Army Medical Department. Through the membership, TIAG laid out a pathway for conducting clinical trials with mRes as part of a response to a solicitation requesting industry inputs for technology solutions to help military and family members develop and maintain personal resilience.

Additionally, TIAG plans to focus on two broad themes: first, leveraging the power of the SBIR to collaborate with DoD, the Department of Homeland Security and other federal organizations to continue to evolve the product; second, TIAG plans to continue to grow the customer base of civilian agencies.

“We are focused on empowering the brightest minds with a shared passion for making an impact,” said Dr. Murphy.

For additional information on mRes visit www.mresilience.net or contact the TIAG mRes team at mResInfo@tiag.net

Lindsey Wilkinson
Lindsey Wilkinson is a News Media Major and Political Science & French Minor at the University of Alabama. She is Food & Health editor for Alice - where she also serves as editor-in-chief for the 2021-2022 school year, a contributing writer for The Crimson White, quarterly article chair for Moxie Alabama, resident advisor in Presidential Village 1, and a mentor for the Media Writing Center. Lindsey started her internship at Homeland Security Today in 2021.

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