A Lot Can Happen In 20 Years (and less)
02/20/2014

2014 marks the 20thanniversary of the Injury Prevention Center of Greater Dallas (IPC). I like to think of anniversaries and milestones as a time of reflection – a time to celebrate past accomplishments and embrace future direction. A lot can happen in 20 years. During the past 20 years, we have witnessed triumph, as well as tragedy.

For me personally, I have:

 

  • Watched my daughter grow from a precocious child into a beautiful young woman and graduate from college;
  • Made lasting friendships;
  • Changed jobs and moved to a different state;
  • Buried both my father and father-in-law; and
  • Completed my goal to visit all 50 states in the U.S.

 

Like many of you who were born before 1994, I’ve also celebrated public health and injury prevention accomplishments that seemed unfathomable even three decades ago – no smoking allowed in public buildings, restaurants, etc., airbags as standard equipment on all vehicles, and blood alcohol concentration (BAC) illegal per se level lowered to .08 in all states. I have also been saddened by inexcusable violence. As a native Oklahoman, I had a front row seat to the devastation of the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. I was with a New Yorker at a meeting in North Carolina when the Twin Towers fell on September 11, 2001, and I felt her pain and the pain of the nation. I have also watched in horror at the seemingly unending string of violence occurring in our schools and other public places.  

 

Although we can’t escape tragedy, I prefer to focus on the positives. In 1994, a group of men and women decided to take a different and bold approach to the increasing number of trauma in Dallas County and established the IPC. (Click here to read more about the IPC Founders.) Since the IPC was established, we have devoted considerable effort and resources to preventing deaths caused by motor vehicle crashes and house fires, and the results are encouraging. Death rates caused by motor vehicle crashes have decreased 39% in Dallas, while death rates caused by house fires have decreased by 43%. Through Operation Installation, a partnership with Dallas Fire-Rescue, we have reduced house fire deaths in project neighborhoods by a compelling 63%. Our child passenger safety efforts, such as Give Kids a Boost, over the years have yielded sustainable increases in car seat use in project areas. More information about both of these programs is available under the “Programs” tab on our website.

I believe we are making progress. But, does it take 20 years to see success (especially in this day and time when funders often demand outcomes in shorter and shorter time frames)? The answer quite simply is yes and no. While preparing for this blog, I re-read several chapters of While We Were Sleeping: Success Stories in Injury and Violence Prevention, written by Dr. David Hemenway, director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center. One of the success stories that Dr. Hemenway describes is the introduction of poisoning prevention packaging. In the 1970s, baby aspirin poisoning of children less than 5 years of age decreased more than 70% in only 3 years following adding safety closures to aspirin packaging. Adding child-resistant packaging to a variety of other products (e.g., antifreeze, drain cleaners, oven cleaners, lighter fluid) resulted in a 67% decrease in poisoning rates in less than 10 years. The book is full of other success stories, so I encourage you to read it.

Sometimes success comes quickly. Other times, it may take years of work, then a tipping point occurs and change happens in rapid succession. An example of this is the enactment of legislation requiring “fire-safe cigarettes.” In 1979, Andrew McGuire launched a grassroots campaign for fire-safe cigarettes. At that time, cigarette-ignited fires were the cause of over one-third of all fire deaths. After years of unsuccessful attempts to pass federal and state-level legislation, New York became the first state to enact a law in 2000; the law went into effect in 2004. In March 2010, Wyoming became the 50th state to enact a fire-safe cigarettes law. In a study published online February 13, 2014 in the American Journal of Public Health, researchers found that residential fires in Massachusetts decreased by 28% after that state’s fire-safe cigarettes law took went into effect. 

Last year on a rain-drizzled day in March, I witnessed a momentous event in Dallas at a rally when Mayor Mike Rawlings launched the “Dallas Men Against Abuse Campaign,” and vowed to end domestic violence in Dallas. Hundreds of men – sports figures, religious leaders, and television personalities – waived flags and pledged to never commit an act of violence against women and to speak out against domestic violence. For me, the best part of the rally was watching the excitement in the eyes of two Dallas women who stood at the edge of the rally stage. Jan Langbein and Paige Flink, who for more than 20 years have passionately been the Dallas voices to end violence against women, saw a cultural shift that day – men lending their voices to the effort and saying they will no longer tolerate abuse against women. Yes, change can happen.

What will the next 20 years bring? I can’t honestly say that I know the answer to that question. If the next 20 years are anything like the past 20, there will be bold action resulting in positive changes, but there will also likely be mind-numbing frustration over the slowness of needed policy and environmental changes that will ultimately make our city and nation safer and healthier. There will likely be more tragedy, but there will also be successes. Lives will be saved.

Thank you to the founders of the IPC and all of our partners in Dallas County, as well as our injury and violence prevention colleagues in Texas and the nation who have persevered through setbacks and disappointments. Your efforts have made Dallas and the U.S. safer. So, in a nod to present 2014 lingo, I will close with my feelings on the past and future 20 years.

#grateful

#hopeful    

 

Shelli Stephens-Stidham

Director, Injury Prevention Center of Greater Dallas

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