It may be summer, but the livin's not necessarily easy.
Every morning as I make my way to work, public works crews are out raking and dragging and bundling the leaves, branches, and trees thrown to the earth by wind and rain during the night. Every evening on my way home, streets and sidewalks are pristine again, clean and dry, as though a tempest had never passed over.
Then it storms again while I sleep and the crews do the whole process over.
As I write, Congress is negotiating President Bush's request for $1.8 billion in emergency disaster relief for Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, and Wisconsin. In what may be the Midwest's worst flood season in 15 years, the Mississippi and other rivers are breaching levees, bursting dams, wiping out bridges, and wreaking assorted other infrastructure-related havoc.
As I thought about the storms that make your chosen profession oh-so-interesting every summer, I thought about storms that are more difficult to predict but have just as profound an affect on you and your department: psychological storms.
Shortly after the public works director of a St. Louis suburb was shot to death at a city council meeting in February, we e-mailed readers to find out how many have felt threatened on the job. The response was immediate, overwhelming, and fascinating: Within 24 hours we received hundreds of examples of how you're never really off duty. Public works employees are verbally and physically harassed in their offices, out in the field, and at home—by residents, contractors, and sometimes each other—and challenged with weapons ranging from wrenches to deer rifles.
We're using these stories to ask psychologists and security specialists how to best prepare for and navigate these storms. Restraining orders aren't always effective. What do you do when other departments shrug off potentially dangerous situations or constituents as just part of the job? How to keep yourself and your employees as safe as possible given the unpredictability of human nature?
The results of our research are the subject of next month's cover story. Thank you to those of you who took the time to share your experiences, tell us how those situations were resolved, and whether department operations changed as a result. We hope our analysis does justice to the underappreciated challenges you and your team face.