The CARES UP Model

Step Three - Check UP

A purple pyramid highlighting the Check UP step with the definition of the step below.

Now that you’ve identified the project team and engaged staff, it’s time to Check UP on the foundation you are building and begin to plan your implementation. Before the plan is created, it is important to have a clear picture of your agency’s health and identify opportunities for improvement. 

Member Support Survey & Strengths and Needs Assessment:

The CARES UP team has developed a Member Support Surveyfor uniformed personnel in your agency to anonymously share their experiences and thoughts on the following:  

  • What departmental efforts relative to wellness, resilience, and suicide prevention are currently underway? 
  • How likely staff are to use existing resources? 
  • What could be done differently to meet member needs?  

Ask staff to complete this survey, which typically takes 5-8 minutes. Be sure to stress that this is an anonymous survey. If there are additional questions the team would like to capture (shifts, years in the field, etc.), they can be added. Though, keep in mind, for smaller organizations, adding additional descriptors may undermine anonymity. If you are unsure how you would use the answers, it is probably best to eliminate those questions. The deidentified data results can be shared with upper management and or others, like your identified Champions. The data is anonymous and informational for key personnel and decision makers. Surveys can become a burden to staff if they are made too long. Think strategically. What aspects of the existing agency culture do you need to understand to better support the health of your agency workers?  

Please feel free to include this language when sending the electronic or physical survey out to your staff: 


The CARES UP project supports first responders in building resiliency to better adapt and recover from stress and adversity and maintain a high level of psychological functioning in their work and home lives.  

 A survey can help shed light about the unique needs of our agency, as well as employee perceptions and knowledge of available mental health and wellness services.  Please take a few minutes to complete this anonymous survey by: (set a due date here).  

 ____ will review the results of the anonymous survey and compile an aggregated report to be reviewed by _____. 

 If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to:  ___________ 

We appreciate you taking the time to complete this short 6-8 minute survey. 

Insert Signature  

The CARES UP team has also developed an organizational Strengths & Needs Assessment for department leadership. This is to be reviewed as a team; or, in smaller units, and then completed by one person in the command structure on behalf of the department. 

The Strengths and Needs Assessment also includes a template for developing an action plan based on the results of both the Membership Support and the Strengths and Needs Assessment surveys. The CARES UP team recommends using these documents to: 

  • Identify a baseline of current wellness and resilience efforts.  
  • Identify current assets within the department.  
  • Identify current gaps and/or areas for growth and improvement.   
  • Develop a specific action plan to advance your efforts.  
  • Re-administer the membership questionnaire after implementing your plan, to gauge progress. This could be part of your action plan and evaluation plan after reaching the last step to measure change.  

After reviewing the Member Support Survey results and the Strengths and Needs Assessment, it’s a good time to review what can be learned from the Check UP section of the model. Bringing issues to light might be difficult, but there may also be new ideas and positive feedback to consider.  

Perhaps stated best by Tom Corcoran, EMS Coordinator at the Watervliet Fire Department, and point of contact for one of the grantees in Cohort One of the CARES UP grant: 

“Prior to the pandemic, most members of the department had developed resiliency skills on their own. But now, combined with [continued] Covid-19, monkey pox, static wages, gas prices, supply chain challenges – it’s reaching a tipping point. People are feeling especially vulnerable.” They’re also looking for support. When asked to complete a staff survey for CARES UP to inform future wellness activities, they were candid in their responses. “Most guys answered honestly because they’re invested in this work,” said Corcoran. “Most had already participated in awareness and stigma training and are aware that mental illness is like any other illness, and that it’s nothing to be ashamed of. That lesson resonated with them. They’re ready for the next step.” For Watervliet, this next step will involve a careful review of existing mental health supports, the re-tooling of existing programs to make them more responsive to current needs, and the creation of new initiatives, such as mental health wellness checks. 

Action Plan Development:

Based on the results of your Member Support Survey and Strengths and Needs Assessment, the agency should agree on an annual action plan. This plan will list the identified goals that the agency plans to take to improve organization health by increasing mental health wellness supports for agency staff. 

When creating the action plan, core leadership concerns such as necessary systems changes should be included. Agencies often focus on having a one-time training instead of delving into organizational transformation. True organization change is achieved through review of policies and protocols, documentation and supportive infrastructure, such as identifying supports for supervisors and managers that can help to lessen the stressors of the job. 

This document  can be used as a tool to track the progress of your agency’s goals over a designated timeline. Note, identified goals and objectives have more power for success when they are SMART goals: 

SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound. 

A chat with an example of SMART goals.

Lessons Learned: After having their police officers complete the Member Support Survey, one of the pilot grant sites used the feedback provided to create their Action Plan. They received a suggestion of having meal kits available at the station for officers to come together and make dinner as a group. After they started using meal kits, officers stated feeling heard. They have also implemented a larger wellness strategy including expanding access to fitness equipment based on staff feedback. 

Another department received feedback that staff did not understand what their EAP offered and were not motivated to access supports. Leadership invited their EAP representative to one of their regularly scheduled Union meetings to help clarify what the EAP offers, and how to access their services as well as other related information. 

Spread The Word About CARES UP In Your Community:  

Share your organization’s CARES UP efforts with local news media. Contact to get a CARES UP press release template. 

To learn more about working with local media to highlight the work in your agency, read this article from a CARES UP grant site. 

Move on to the next step in the CARES UP Model: