The Human Impact in Emergency Incident Response: Part Two – Ten Tips on Taking Care of Emergency Response Team Members

Keri Griffith, CBCP

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Aug 14, 2023

In part one of this series on the Human Impact in Emergency Incident Response, I discussed a critical but under-considered aspect of emergency planning: the importance of providing support to your emergency response teams. Working long hours in an intense environment is physically and emotionally exhausting, and responding to an incident can be a traumatic experience for team members. Providing support to response teams ultimately helps reduce stress, maintain decision-making ability and prevent burnout.

To help ensure a healthy team and effective incident response, here are ten strategies I recommend including in your organization's emergency response plans and training.

  1. Train responders on how to prepare loved ones for their emergency response work. When irregular working hours are required, setting expectations in advance with loved ones can potentially reduce stress for the responder.
  2. Ensure the employee is relieved of their full-time duties. Because an incident response can be all-consuming, coverage of an employee's regular duties should be clearly defined so the employee can stay 100% focused on the response. This is best communicated through policies directed to managers with staff in on-call responder positions.
  3. Have a healthy selection of food and snack options available. To keep going with irregular hours, emergency responders need access to healthy food. Also, the Command Center needs to make certain enough food is available for everyone.
  4. Provide vitamins, supplements and plenty of over-the-counter pain relievers. Working in an intense, stressful environment can negatively impact the body. Incorporating a list of supplies into the response plan can help ensure responders get what they need to stay healthy.
  5. Ensure responders take breaks and do not work beyond their designated shifts. With adrenaline flowing, it's easy to omit breaks and work well past the end of a shift. But that often leads to burnout and a less effective response. Predetermining a work schedule and integrating some control around the number of hours worked will help reduce stress and fatigue.
  6. Create a consistent schedule early on, giving responders a day or two off. Similar to the previous point, the team will need one or two days off to physically and mentally recover during a long-term response.
  7. Offer other support services such as laundry, transportation or accommodations near the Command Post/Emergency Operations Center. Include up-to-date contact information for these resources in response plans and make it easily available to the Command Center. For this purpose, using a concierge or a response plan software solution like SMARTPLANTM is ideal.
  8. Provide on-site mental health professionals. In my last post, I discussed how intense incidents can be triggering for employees experiencing difficult situations in their personal lives – particularly incidents where there are decedents. On-site mental health resources can help mitigate trauma for responders.
  9. Offer an on-site massage therapist. Command Center staff can experience significant stress when managing an intensive response spanning many hours over many days. Having a licensed massage therapist available to provide shoulder and neck massages can be very welcome.
  10. Educate the team on how to identify and respond to stress/trauma. In line with the above recommendations, all team members should share a knowledge base on the signs and dangers of stress. Teammates can observe each other and identify individuals who are overly fatigued or need help. Emergency planners and responders should also be familiar with the concept of psychological first aid to assess immediate concerns for both disaster survivors and first responders. The American Psychological Association and the Centers for Disease Control offer great resources for taking care of your own and others' mental health needs during an emergency response.

Implementing procedures and safeguards that provide adequate care for emergency response teams increases the chances of having a more effective response and sets employees up to successfully transition back into their day job. In my next post, I'll provide tips to help responders recover and return to their everyday routine.

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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.