2003 Finalist
City of Tempe, Arizona
Innovations in American Government Awards
Innovations in American Government Awards

Firefighters and policemen respond to hundreds of calls each day. A single service worker might see many house fires or domestic disputes, but to the people involved, they may be the biggest crisis they have ever experienced. Trauma and shock are common, and often go unrecognized and untreated by overworked emergency response professionals. Firefighters and policemen tend to not have the time or training to linger with victims and see to their psychological needs when other emergencies beckon.

In 1996, the city of Tempe, Arizona, resolved to provide more comprehensive support services for residents who experienced emergencies. Mental health professionals helped train community volunteers to respond to emergency calls. A pilot program in one district of the city proved so successful that Crisis Avoidance Response Efforts (Care) 7 teams are now dispatched to every police or fire emergency call in the city. Specialized units have been developed in following years, from domestic violence victim protection programs to a Family Support Program for the victims of serious crime.

These teams, consisting of one mental health professional and one community volunteer, move onto the scene of an incident as soon as order and safety have been restored to offer practical assistance to victims. For example, the teams help find shelter for people who have lost their homes in fires, notify the next-of-kin when someone is injured in a car accident, help women injured in violent domestic disputes find safe shelter, direct alcohol or drug abusers to detoxification programs, and even provide emotional support for families experiencing loss after a catastrophe.

Care 7 teams are trained first responders, just like other emergency services and unlike typical support services, which are usually only available during working hours. While community volunteers can provide many vital services, they cannot replace the aid of skilled mental health professionals. Care 7 provides support when the problems arising from an emergency are most urgent and intimidating: right after the harmful event.

Care 7 teams respond to more than 1200 calls per year, and the program benefits the community as a whole, as well as the victims of emergencies. The popular program has spurred an increase in volunteerism in Tempe; the nature of the work allows volunteers to see their help impacting the lives of fellow citizens. Tempe residents report that Care 7 is an effective, and even necessary, part of emergency response. Community support for the program has been so strong that it is now a line item on the city budget. Already, other counties in Arizona have moved to create their own programs modeled on Care 7, and interest has picked up nationwide as well.