The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the urgent need for resources and peer-to-peer support for public safety personnel across Canada.

A new national peer-to-peer mobile application customized to meet their needs, is being tested this spring and is expected to launch later this year.

Public safety personnel include professionals who ensure the safety and security of Canadians. For the project, this will initially include corrections workers, firefighters, paramedics, police and public safety communicators.

McMaster University, in collaboration with Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC), the Canadian Institute for Public Safety Research and Treatment (CIPSRT) at the University of Regina, and Security Compass, a cybersecurity company, were key partners in developing the mobile application.

“Many public safety personnel have expressed an urgent need for peer support, especially services in rural or remote areas, and those with limited resources for supports such as volunteer firefighters,” said Sandra Moll, associate professor of McMaster’s School of Rehabilitation Science, and one of the lead investigators on the project.

“Regardless of the organization, all public safety personnel share the desire to promote accessible, relevant, high quality resources that will support their mental health and well-being.” 

Two related apps are being created. OnCall is for public safety personnel seeking resources and peer support. OnCall Support is for certified peer supporters offering peer support services. The applications were co-designed with input from more than 90 stakeholders from the public safety community. Front-line workers across Canada have also contributed “peer wisdom” video clips that are embedded in the app.

The communication platform provides access to peer support either in real-time or through pre-recorded video clips and evidence-informed articles. The platform has intentionally been designed to accommodate diverse models of providing peer support across diverse populations of public safety personnel, allowing users substantial flexibility on the degree of engagement.

 DRDC led the technical build and design sprint week, held in Toronto. Insights from the design sprint highlighted how privacy and security are essential requirements for the public safety community.

 Security Compass, a cyber-security consulting firm, conducted a security analysis of the OnCall and OnCall Support architecture to help the applications adhere to the highest industry standards for security and privacy. Both applications are built to prioritize the anonymity and privacy of all involved.

“All front-line workers -- public safety personnel, health care professionals, and others -- are continuously placing themselves at risk to help save lives, particularly during COVID-19,” said Nick Carleton, scientific director at the Canadian Institute for Public Safety Research and Treatment.

“The OnCall project is designed to create a pan-Canadian solution to foster and promote access to evidence-informed content and continuously improved peer support by providing access to help in the palm of people's hands.”



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