Module 11.5 – Provide Support to Staff after Critical Events

Even with proper security protocols and mitigation measures, serious security incidents may occur. Staff may witness or be directly involved in serious crimes, accidents, or direct physical assault. What are the expectations of management and other colleagues in response to such incidents?

What steps can be taken to lessen the impact of critical incident stress for those who have been involved in serious traumatic experiences or critical incidents?

There are many possible actions that may have specific uses for responding to the effects of critical incident stress, depending on the incident, the location, the cultures involved, and other factors. Even so, there are some general guidelines that are likely to be applicable in most serious situations. In preparing to support staff and colleagues following critical events, it is important to pay attention to the following aspects:

Accommodate basic human needs

In order to create an environment in which people may express themselves freely, the following steps are recommended for staff in the immediate aftermath of a critical event:

  • Allow time for bathing, change of clothes and a meal in privacy and comfort. Staff should not feel they have to face anybody, including supervisors or colleagues, before they are ready.
  • As team leader, welcome the group in person if possible, or designate your personal representative to do so. One or two staff from the office should be freed up to take care of needs and provide the link between the group and the office, as meeting a large group of colleagues can be overwhelming.

Arrange for defusing

Defusing or “informal debriefing” often happens naturally as people come together at the end of the day and spontaneously discuss events. In the wake of a critical event involving staff, however, defusing should be organized to provide a more structured and protected environment in which those involved can express and share their experience. In facilitating such sessions think through the need for each of the following:

Session leader – If possible, the defusing session should be guided by a trained person. In the absence of specialized health or mental health staff, managers can initiate conversation about the event with the group. The session leader should be familiar with typical stress reactions and consult one or more of the many excellent resources in this area.

Support and privacy – Every effort should be made to keep the discussion supportive as well as protective of the privacy of those present. Expression of strong emotions makes people feel vulnerable. Angry feelings should be recognized as a normal response to a violent, upsetting event, and staff should be able to “let off steam” about these. Criticism of professional performance is not appropriate, and should be held for a later “Lessons Learned” meeting in which the event is reviewed from a different perspective.

Educational focus – Discussion of different physical, emotional, cognitive and other reactions that may be experienced in the circumstances should emphasize how normal these are. Team Leaders, backed by a health-trained staff member if one is available, can offer suggestions on what to anticipate and how to cope.

Critical event aftermath – Because some staff members may experience delayed reactions, managers should monitor stress levels in the weeks following a critical event. If these are causing concern, the Staff Welfare Officer should be consulted about further levels of post-event support needed, either for individuals or team.

Specific psychological interventions with critical events

In cases when critical events are severe, it is imperative that support is provided by a mental health professional. If the organization has trained professionals, they should be notified of the event so that they can contact the staff and teams involved in order to assess their needs.

Care Checklist for Others Exposed to a Critical Event

Use a common-sense approach sometimes known as “Psychological First Aid” to support the person’s coping and return of control in the immediate aftermath of a traumatic experience.

  • Explain your position and role to the person you are supporting.
  • Arrange for medical support if needed
  • Provide a sheltered opportunity for:
  • – Food
  • – Bathing
  • – Resting
  • – Communication with family/friends
  • Provide protection from additional trauma of:
  • – Intrusive questioning
  • – Unwanted exposure to the public
  • Answer questions honestly.
  • Listen empathetically to what the person wants to tell you about the event.
  • Ascertain the person’s needs for: – Company/companionship
  • – Privacy
  • Validate feelings and reactions (refer to What You May Experience above)
  • Encourage re-establishment of personal routines.
  • Validate use of person’s stress management repertoire.
  • Encourage one day at a time, small tasks.