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Supporting Those Impacted: Communicating During and After Tragedy

18 Apr. 2018 Posted by ameulendyke

Michael Bugenhagen, FEI Business Development Manager

At a recent emergency managers conference, one of the presentations I attended focused on how a community responded to a mass shooting. I was most interested in learning about what efforts were put forth to establish a call center or “help line” for victims and families, as well as if a family reunification/assistance center had been developed.

In this case, the community did have an internal help line resource established within the emergency management department. Prior to the shooting, its most common use was to take calls from people reporting trees down or other safety issues during hurricanes. The department was not prepared to field the thousands of phone calls they received from people concerned that friends or family members were impacted by the shooting. These “call takers” were regular city employees that volunteered to staff the help line. 

Fortunately, emergency management recognized the fact that the help line volunteers were not prepared for the emotional impact of the calls. While they themselves were not directly impacted by the event, they were experiencing what is often referred to as “secondary trauma” or “vicarious traumatization.” Emergency management connected with local resources to find counselors with trauma and psychological first aid experience to staff the help line and assist volunteers with the emotional weight.

The community noted additional challenges associated with the help line including:

  • Amount of time it took to staff (about six hours after initial event).
  • Lack of available phones for initial volume of calls.
  • Language translation needs.
  • Documenting and tracking of caller needs and concerns.

Have you thought of how your organization would respond to a crisis event? Would you rely solely upon the community to manage the incident? Or would there be value in being better prepared to support your own organization?

At FEI, we provide organizations with a dedicated emergency inquiry center staffed with counselors experienced in trauma response and skilled in communicating with those impacted by crisis. If you are interested in learning more about how we can assist you in timely responding to the needs of your people – whether they're employees, guests, visitors, students, customers or vendors, and especially family members – contact us today.

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