What is the Department of Public Safety?

In the United States of America, a Department of Public Safety refers to a state or local government agency that is responsible for overseeing the emergency service departments and other public health, safety, and security departments in their area.

At a federal level, the Department of Homeland Security is the equivalent of the department of public safety. It oversees all the emergency services, health, safety and security issues on a national level.

What does the Department of Public Safety Do?

Any Department of Public Safety, be it state or local level, is responsible for making sure that the smaller emergency service agencies and health and safety departments in the area are working together effectively.

As there is a great diversity of services and departments within the umbrella of ‘public safety’, it is vitally important that the various fractions have good communication, cooperation and coordination, particularly in the event of an accident, emergency, attack or natural disaster.

It is also important that all the various agencies have shared values and standards, something that the Department of Public Safety can uphold and police.

What Services Fall under the Department of Public Safety?

The exact services and agencies that fall under the umbrella of the Department of Public Safety change depending on what state and area you are in. Every department does things slightly differently, and indeed, in some places many of the smaller agencies are merged into multi-functional agencies whose personnel are trained in more than one area.

However, in general the services and agencies that are considered part of the Department of Public Service include:

  • Policing Services – responsible for law enforcement, community outreach and policing the streets, traffic control and other policing duties
  • The Fire Service – responsible for fire fighting, fire suppression and fire prevention, with many personnel also trained in other public safety areas as well
  • The Ambulance and Emergency Medical Service (EMS) – responsible for providing on scene, emergency medical assistance, care and transportation
  • The Haz-mat Service – responsible for dealing with hazardous materials and chemical spills
  • The Rescue Services – including mountain rescue, river rescue, life guards and other specialist rescue operations depending on the area you are in
  • Emergency Communications – responsible for taking 911 calls and advanced 911 calls
  • Office of Emergency Management (OEM) – responsible for planning and managing large scale operations in the case of calamities, disasters, terrorist attacks and special events
  • Code enforcement and Inspections – responsible for ensuring codes and conduct for building safety are carried out on construction sites and inside buildings and in vehicles, including electrical regulations etc
  • Animal Control Services – responsible for animal control including animal rescue, game wardens and wildlife officers
  • Department of Transportation (DOT) – responsible for vehicle registration, vehicle licensing and tags and standards
  • Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) – responsible for car registration plates, car driving licenses, tags and identification cards
  • Department of Firearms – responsible for the licensing and registering of guns and other firearms

Which Departments of Public Safety have cross-trained personnel?

In the majority of cities and counties in America, The Department of Public Safety is an umbrella organization that oversees all the specialised departments mentioned above.

Each of the departments also counts as part of the Department of Public Safety in terms of their own classification and jurisdiction. In these cases, the DPS is largely an administrative organisation that coordinates and oversees.

However, in a small minority of places in the US, the Department of Public Safety is one single, cohesive organization with cross trained personnel who are responsible for multiple areas of public safety. In these cases, firefighters are also trained as emergency medical technicians, haz-mat responders and law enforcement officers.

This style of public safety department was made popular in the 1970s and 80s, and now only exists in very few areas. There were advantages and disadvantages to this model. The advantages include the cohesive nature of the department, and the versatility and skill level of the personnel.

The disadvantage mainly lies with the cost, as it is very expensive to train and retain such highly qualified staff and personnel. 

Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety

Michigan has the largest number of cross-trained public safety departments in America. The Kalamazoo DPS claims to be the largest in the country, with over 250 sworn officers. Each officer is fully trained as a police officer, fire officer and medical first responder.

The impressive department was formed in the 1980s when the Kalamazoo police department was merged with the fire department due to tax cuts in the area. Now, Kalamazoo is very proud to have such a large and well trained department of Public Safety that operates out of one building.

The merger was praised as a big success and the department is now often used as an example for other public safety departments and provides training sessions.

Are the state police a subdivision of the DPS?

In some states, the state police are a subdivision of the Department of Public Safety, rather than being a separate entity unto themselves. In these areas the DPS therefore has law enforcement capabilities.

Areas where this is the case include: Texas, Minnesota, Tennessee, Arizona, Alabama, South Carolina and Oklahoma. In Texas, for example, the Texas State Troopers are key personnel in the Texas Department of Public Safety and they are trained in law enforcement and fire fighting, as well as EMS and other emergency service areas. 

What about on a Federal Level?

On a federal level, The Department of Homeland Security is the equivalent of the local and state Departments of Public Safety. The Department of Homeland Security is responsible for overseeing public health, safety and security issues on a national level all across America.

In the event of national emergencies such as terrorist attacks and threats, natural disasters and medical outbreaks, the Department of Homeland Security are responsible for supervising the emergency services. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (or FEMA) is the agency who plan, coordinate and control these situations.

Until 2002, America did not have a department of homeland security. It was in fact set up as a direct response to the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers on September the 11th. After that day the United States government deemed it necessary to have an overseeing body that could be prepared for future attacks and disasters, in order to aid communications and management of the many smaller departments.

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