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Emergency Management Workers respond to disasters that may include natural disasters such as tornadoes, floods, or they may be man made disasters such as a multiple victim motor vehicle accidents, technological failures or XXX.
Responding to these disasters increases the risk of Emergency Response Teams to be exposed to Potentially Traumatic Events (PTE). Potentially Traumatic Events, also called critical incidents, may include exposure to loss of life, severely injured children or adults, dead bodies or body parts, the loss of colleagues, and/or the loss of people’s homes and businesses.
It is normal for workers to experience physical, cognitive, emotional, or behavioral symptoms due to the stress of these situations and losses. Some people experience emotional aftershocks weeks or months after they have passed through a traumatic event. Others may experience these reactions while still at the scene, where they must stay focused on constantly changing hazards to maintain their own safety and to rescue injured victims.
The stress responses to these Potentially Traumatic Events is a normal human reaction.
By definition, a traumatic event is one that is outside the normal range of everyday life events and the individual experiences physical or emotional reactions to the event. Every individual will react/respond in their own unique way. Potentially Traumatic Events are especially frequent among front line emergency workers. A PTE is one experienced by personnel that produces an emotional reaction with the potential for inhibiting a worker's ability to function either at the scene or at a later time. In rare cases, the individual's coping mechanisms are overwhelmed. An example of a PTE for an individual would be the serious injury or death of a colleague in the line of duty or an incident where the circumstances, the sights, sounds and smells are so distressing as to result in an immediate or delayed reaction. Examples of PTE for a community would be an earthquake, tornado, fire, flood, large-scale environmental pollution, multiple injury/fatal accident, terrorism, child related traumatic events or homicides in the community.
Researchers have identified both immediate and long range symptomatic reactions to trauma. Initially, individuals will report numbness, denial, avoidance of places or things that remind them of the trauma, withdrawal from social interaction, depression, difficulty with concentration and relationships. These reactions are brain based reactions and may occur at the scene of the incident, or in the 24-72 hours after an event. Long range symptoms include fearfulness, irritability, sleep disturbance, and flashbacks. These responses can fluctuate within an individual and be confusing and disturbing to the individual, his family, and co-workers. Post trauma reactions are natural responses to trauma, and will resolve naturally over 6-8 weeks. There is consensus among clinicians and researchers that the presence of a supportive environment is crucial to a positive resolution for the traumatized workers. Successful resolution of the crisis experience not only allows for the worker's return to productive work but can help him or her better understand a normal response to an atypical situation.
For a list of common responses.
In some cases, clinical care may be required to resolve the lingering reactions. A Clinician trained to work with emergency service workers can help you resolve the lingering effects of traumatic events. Please see the Clinical Vetted Resource Page for a links to clinicians and in-patient and out-patient treatment centers.
Remember that strong reactions to abnormal situations are normal. The CDC created a summary sheet that you can download here and share with your colleagues before and after a disaster. (The link shoudl lead to the CDC Sheet. I think the CDC sheet should be upload and housed on our web-site for this link.)