The Human Impact in Emergency Incident Response: Part Three – Five Tips on Transitioning Emergency Responders Back to Regular Work

Keri Griffith

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Sep 12, 2023

In part one of this series on the Human Impact in Emergency Response, I discussed why it is important to provide support to your emergency response teams. In part two, I mentioned ten tips on how to take care of your emergency responders. In this final installment, I want to discuss the return to regular job duties and routine.

Transitioning from a period of long hours, intense engagement and sometimes traumatic experience can be difficult for workers. In some situations, it really can be analogous to returning from a war zone, with the possibility of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for some on the team. During a response, the team might have had to deal with a death or mass fatalities, such as transporting decedents to the morgue. Since 2020, COVID has also been a complicating factor in incident response.

With that in mind, I offer these five suggestions for helping your team return to their normal routine.

  1. Provide Critical Incident Stress Debriefing (CISD) and check in with employees to make sure they are coping well upon return. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) provides guidelines on its website for identifying signs of exposure to critical stress and a seven-step debriefing process.
  2. Ensure responders have time off prior to returning to work. It can be helpful for staff to have some time to process the experience before returning to routine duties. This also allows responders to catch up with friends, family and personal responsibilities.
  3. Plan for a gradual transition back to regular duties. It makes sense not to load too many responsibilities on a returning responder initially. It’s a good idea to coordinate with the employee’s manager regarding the workload and modifying deadlines.
  4. Prepare managers and colleagues for the team’s return. This can be as simple as providing an instructional communication to line managers on how to facilitate a discussion with their team prior to the return of colleagues who have been out on a response. One key point to note is that work priorities and objectives have changed. You should also point out that some responders may wish to discuss their experiences while others may choose not to discuss it at all.
  5. Encourage responders to spend time together. Response teams bond together in intense situations, so they will appreciate a chance to reconnect. Years ago, after working on a long-term response, the team I was a part of scheduled monthly dinners and stayed in touch. This was the only group that could empathize with and relate to what I was experiencing afterwards.

Having a preplanned checklist for returning to work and an individual assigned to assist with the process can go a long way. This lets staff know that you care about them. It also level sets expectations for colleagues and management that were not a part of the response.

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About the author

Keri Griffith
Keri is an accomplished Business Crisis and Continuity professional with over 20 years of broad-based experience in emergency management, business crisis, business continuity, recovery site management and safety leadership. Keri Griffith is the Market Director for Jensen Hughes Digital Solutions, which includes our emergency management SMARTPLAN™ solution.