Improving Crisis Prevention and Response

In September of 2020, the Allegheny County Department of Human Services and Allegheny County Emergency Services co-convened the Crisis Response Stakeholder Group (CRSG). Comprised of over 30 stakeholders from across the crisis system including representatives from 9-1-1, law enforcement, City and County government, elected officials, foundations, provider agencies and community members, the workgroup was formed to address the overreliance on emergency services for people with behavioral health needs, as well as the racial inequities that persist throughout our crisis system.

The group met regularly to map out the current crisis system and hear from a wide variety of stakeholders, including frontline staff and people in the community. They identified gaps and opportunities within the system and developed a set of 16 recommendations(PDF, 144KB), which was published in February 2021. Following a public engagement phase and feasibility analysis, they will reconvene to support implementation of adopted recommendations and ongoing quality improvement.

Defining Crisis

The CRSG defined a ‘crisis’ as an instance when emergency services are engaged because a person is in acute mental health distress, engaged in problematic substance use, is experiencing unsheltered homelessness or has an intellectual disability/autism. The CRSG utilized an overarching framework that divided the crisis continuum into four phases: prevention, early intervention, crisis response and post-crisis recovery. Recognizing these are not static categories and many services span across several of them, it nevertheless helped frame the workgroup’s understanding of ‘crisis’ and enabled them to think beyond “response” solutions when improving the crisis system as a whole.

Vision for an Improved Crisis Prevention and Response System

The CRSG created a shared vision for what an improved crisis prevention and response system would look like. The vision was:

  • A crisis response system that builds trust with communities of color and meaningfully integrates community work, voices, skills and expertise
  • There are fewer people in active crisis
  • Whenever possible, law enforcement is not the first or only response on behavioral health crisis calls
  • Jail incarceration is no longer viewed as the primary method for connecting people to behavioral health services/supports
  • People are aware of -- and have more and easier access to -- structurally competent, culturally humble, trauma-informed human services in the community

Goals of the Crisis Response Stakeholder Group

In an effort to better meet the needs of people with behavioral health challenges, prevent crises whenever possible and improve the County’s response when crises do occur, the workgroup aimed to meet three goals:

  • Improve the functioning of, and coordination between, the community’s existing crisis services system
  • Develop new solutions that improve the quality and functioning of the crisis services system
  • Advance strategies that increase racial equity

Recommendations & What’s Next

You can learn more about the 16 recommendations(PDF, 144KB) drafted by the CRSG in this downloadable PDF. In February 2021, the public provided feedback on all 16 recommendations. Reports on this survey feedback will be added below as they are completed.

Related Documents

The following documents contain details about all of these activities and will be updated and added to as more information becomes available:

Links to Additional Initiatives

MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge

Public comments via Neighborland related to reducing arrest and incarceration: Supporting community-based public safety