Working in a small, rural health department in Northwest Montana comes with many challenges and job responsibilities. Like many others, included in my job description is ….. ‘all other duties as assigned’. Often designated funding is not available to support full time positions focused on particular public health issues such as walkability, Safe Routes to School, built environments, etc. Often our involvement in programming starts with a request from a supervisor, health officer or a community member for someone to add another activity or focus area to their plate. This is how my participation in the Walking Movement began. Co-workers asked a number of times what I would be learning at a three-day summit on the most fundamental form of transportation known to man. I wondered the same thing myself. And how would I incorporate this into my already busy schedule of day to day activities. My main areas of responsibility are in injury prevention – getting people to wear their seat belts, children in properly used child restraints, impaired driving prevention.
While sitting through the intensive training opportunities, plenary and breakout sessions I was impressed with the information shared and the opportunities for our community in Flathead County. Speakers were top notch, knowledgeable and willing to help others. Unfortunately, I started having those moments of panic wave over me as I wondered how can I take back all this knowledge and background to implement as much as possible through our work at the Health Department. My aha moment came on the last day, during the final session I attended. I chose “Vision Zero: How Local Communities are Zeroing in on a New Approach to Safe Mobility”. I was intrigued by the title as I am currently working on the State of Montana’s Vision Zero Campaign working towards zero serious injury and fatal crashes on our roadways. This effort is focused on seat belt use, impaired driving prevention and decreasing roadway departures which are the leading cause of serious traffic injuries and death in our state. Wanting to see how the two campaigns were similar or different made me pick this session. As the presenters were talking about mapping injury and fatality locations to focus preventions efforts, it dawned on me that I already do this in motor vehicle safety. Now my injury prevention efforts can be increasingly broad based and comprehensive under the Vision Zero title. None of this happens in a vacuum. Each safety message can build upon another. When assisting schools with a Safe Routes to School activity or a bike rodeo, a buckle up message should be included. Anytime we talk about wearing seat belts in vehicles, we need to remind the driver to watch for bikers and pedestrians as well. I like the comprehensive view that blending the two programs together offers. Next time a walkability audit is preformed, I will add to my observation list items such as: reminder signs to buckle up, slow down, look for pedestrians and bikers, sight lines, etc.
My time in St. Paul was well spent. Now I feel that I have a solid foundation from which to work as a representative of public health to build a safer, more walkable community. The panicky feeling is gone and I look forward to integrating the benefits of safe, livable spaces.
-Wendy Olson Hansen
Flathead City-County Health Department
(2nd from left in photo at Summit)
This is #3 in a series of essays on scholars' experiences at the National Walking Summit.