Not every solution is a good one

I am relieved to report that many of my colleagues on Regional Council were convinced – whether by personal stories or by the evidence – to vote in favour of constructing barriers on a piece of infrastructure where we’ve seen six deaths in as many months.

Here is the story in the local newspaper about that decision.

In the video below, you can hear the arguments for and against the barriers, followed by the arguments for and against putting volunteers on the piece of infrastructure until the barriers are constructed.

This blog entry is about putting volunteers out there.

If you watch the video, you will hear me ask Dr. Hirji and Ms Gibbs some very pointed questions both about the feasibility and liability of putting volunteers in the role of trying to keep people from falling from that piece of infrastructure.

More than there being no evidence to support that such an initiative would be helpful, I have grave concerns about the impact this kind of role could have on those who might volunteer to do it. A friend and constituent said to me the following day, “anyone who thinks putting people on the bridge is a good idea has never experienced trauma in their life,” and I have to agree with her.

Having worked in volunteer management and developing volunteer programs, we go out of our way to ensure that volunteers are ‘in a good place’ for volunteering, i.e., that they have not experienced trauma or have healed from trauma they have experienced. That said, the potential for witnessing someone still fall from that piece of infrastructure is too great and the impact too detrimental, and I can’t imagine that the standard vetting procedure around a volunteer’s readiness could ensure that someone is adequately prepared for such a role.

We have highly trained emergency responders who suffer PTSD from these kinds of incidents and we want to suggest that volunteers – who will have no counselling or other support systems – are a viable option? Dr. Hirji ultimately recommended against it and spoke to the ethics of such a scenario.

Beyond my – again – grave concerns around the trauma that this kind of role could inflict on people who are just trying to do a good thing for their community, there is risk to the corporation in that if a volunteer cannot stop someone from falling from that piece of infrastructure, will the family sue the corporation?

Furthermore, the sheer number of volunteers (approximately 100 highly trained people) and administrative structure that would have to be put in place to vet and train the volunteers and then manage them and their shifts is, of course, no small thing. Can you see a highly trained volunteer offering to take that 3am to 5am shift on a Tuesday morning week after week? The turnover rate is likely to be high for volunteers in this role.

If you want to hear me discussing this with Matt Holmes of CKTB, you can listen here.

It is true that I said earlier in the meeting (when discussing the barriers) that there is more than one answer to this problem.

However, not every solution is a good one, and putting volunteers in this role – either through the Region recruiting them or from draining the resources of agencies already doing crisis work (which Dr. Hirji spoke to) – falls into this category.

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