Following a critical incident or traumatic event, there are three main steps that organisations should take to ensure that their staff are looked after.
Critical incidents may trigger a wide range of physical and psychological symptoms, including increased heart rate, high blood pressure and anxiety. Demobilisation (rest, information and transition) is a way of calming workers following a critical incident and ensuring that their immediate needs are met. A supervisor or manager who was not involved in the incident, or affected by it, should carry out the demobilisation.
A demobilisation takes place immediately after the event, before the end of a shift or before those involved in the incident disperse. Strategies include:
- Summarise the incident and clarify uncertainties
- Invite questions and discuss issues of concern
- Show care and support
- Draw up a plan of action, taking into account the needs of the workers
- Make short-term arrangements for work responsibilities
- Offer information on defusing and debriefing
A defusing is done the day of the incident before the person(s) has a chance to sleep. The defusing is designed to assure the person/people involved that their feelings are normal, tells them what symptoms to watch for over the short term and to offer them a lifeline in the form of a telephone number where they can reach someone who they can talk to.
Defusings are limited only to individuals directly involved in the incident. They are designed to assist individuals in coping in the short term and address immediate needs.
Defusing (immediate small group support) is conducted by ACCESS Programs trained staff members and is designed to bring the experience of the incident to a conclusion and provide immediate personal support. The aim is to stabilise the responses of workers involved in the incident and provide an opportunity for them to express any immediate concerns. This step should take place within 12 hours of the incident.
- Review the event
- Clarify workers’ questions and concerns
- Encourage workers to talk about what happened
- Identify current needs
- Offer workers advice, information and handouts on referrals and support agencies
- Arrange follow-up debriefing sessions to provide information about the event when available
Debriefing (powerful event group support) is usually carried out within three to seven days of the critical incident, when workers have had enough time to take in the experience. Debriefing is not counselling. It is a structured voluntary discussion aimed at putting an abnormal event into perspective. It offers workers clarity about the critical incident they have experienced and assists them to establish a process for recovery.
Trained ACCESS Program debriefers help the workers to explore and understand a range of issues, including:
- The sequence of events
- The causes and consequences
- Each person’s experience
- Any memories triggered by the incident
- Normal psychological reactions to critical incidents
- Methods to manage emotional responses resulting from a critical incident