Training first responders in de-escalation strategies to build stronger communities

March 13, 2023 By Kit Germeroth

The Collaborative to Advance Health Services is a multidisciplinary research and training collective in the School of Nursing at the University of Missouri – Kansas City (UMKC). The Collaborative’s mission is to advance health and wellness by bringing research into practice and by providing high quality training and technical assistance to the healthcare workforce. 

The Collaborative is self-sustaining and 100% grant-funded. It focuses on areas related to general health, reproductive health and family planning, mental health, and substance use prevention, treatment, and recovery. Their funders include the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Office of Population Affairs (OPA), and United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). UMKC has been working with the Moodle team for several years. 


The team at UMKC most recently engaged Moodle’s in-house Learning Design team to work on a grant-funded course called “The Deflection Conversation Framework: A Community Engagement Tool for First Responders.” The course was a collaboration between the Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities (TASC) Center for Health and Justice and the Addiction Technology Transfer Center at UMKC, and made possible by the Bureau of Justice Assistance’s Comprehensive Opioid, Stimulant and Substance Abuse Program.

This course aims to train law enforcement officers and first responders in non-incarceration strategies for intervening with individuals who misuse substances or who have substance use disorder (SUD). Deflection initiatives are being implemented nationwide to connect people who use drugs to community-based treatment and services, rather than the justice system or emergency departments.

More specifically, the goals of the course were to provide a comprehensive understanding of deflection, how first responders can implement deflection strategies into their work, and how to implement a deflection pathway in their communities. The course also teaches about the science of addiction, how drug treatment works, and that recovery from drug use is possible.


The course was built in Articulate Rise so that it wouldn’t require course managers to have advanced coding knowledge to create a course that functions well on all devices. The subject matter experts across the organizations worked with Moodle’s Learning Design team to set up the course and present the information in the most effective and accessible manner for the learners. Being a sensitive subject matter that requires a philosophical change on the part of the learners, Moodle’s Learning Design team and the team of stakeholders from UMKC and TASC placed extra emphasis on the “why” behind the course material.

The project team collaborated with Black Mountain Visuals (BMV), a Moodle partner that specializes in commercial video production, to create custom videos for the course. BMV worked onsite to film interviews with individuals who are involved with deflection work in their day-to-day lives. They also filmed two live-action scenarios where first responders put the deflection process framework into practice. The videos are used consistently throughout the course to tell real-life stories, making the course material more engaging.

The course adheres to all web accessibility standards. It includes checks for understanding and actual application of the covered material and is graded automatically, thus reducing the cost of ongoing implementation.


Prior to this project, training was conducted in-person and was dependent upon trainer schedules and availability. Now asynchronous and fully mobile responsive, first responders have more flexibility and can take the training at their convenience, such as between emergency response calls. Automatic grading functionality also saves significant time for course administrators. Further assessment will be conducted by UMKC and TASC to analyze the long-term results of the project.

Thanks to the success of the deflection course, the UMKC team is continuing to work with Moodle’s Learning Design team on another project called Virtual Coffee Breaks. These 15-30 minute courses, created by The Clinical Training Center for Sexual and Reproductive Health, are adapted from short webinars and have continuing education and knowledge checks attached to turn them into more sustainable learning activities.

Hannah Clary with UMKC stated, “We would work with Carli on every project if we could. She’s very communicative and friendly, and she knows everything.” Carli Cockrell credits the success of these projects back to UMKC and the stakeholders and commented, “Without their commitment to equitable online learning, this wouldn’t have been possible. It is a pleasure to work with UMKC on projects that benefit communities at-large.”

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