Psychological First Aid

Making an immediate difference in supporting affected people.


Alexander Dimitrevich

What is Psychological First Aid (PFA)?

Psychological First Aid (PFA) is an acute intervention to help children, adolescents, adults, and families in the immediate aftermath of disaster, terrorism, and other emergencies. PFA can also be provided to police, fire, and other emergency responders. Psychological First Aid is designed to reduce the initial distress caused by traumatic events and to foster short- and long-term adaptive functioning and coping. PFA meets four basic standards. It is:

  1. Consistent with research on risk and resilience following trauma
  2. Applicable and practical in field settings
  3. Appropriate for developmental levels across the lifespan
  4. Culturally informed and delivered in a flexible manner

PFA does not assume that all individuals will develop severe mental health problems or long-term difficulties. Instead, it is based on an understanding that survivors and others affected by such events will experience a broad range of early reactions (physical, psychological, behavioral, spiritual). Some of these reactions will cause enough distress to interfere with adaptive coping, and recovery may be helped by support from compassionate and caring providers.

Is PFA an Evidence-Based Intervention?

PFA is supported by behavioral health experts as the “acute intervention of choice” when responding to the psychosocial needs of children, adults and families affected by disaster, terrorism, and other emergencies.

This model still requires systematic empirical support. However, because many of the components have been guided by research, there is consensus among experts that these evidence-informed strategies provide effective ways to help survivors, responders, and others manage distress and adversity and to identify those who may require additional services.

PFA’s Five Evidence-Informed Principles

Research indicates that many individuals experience fear, anxiety, a need to connect with others, a sense of being overwhelmed, and/or hopelessness immediately after an event, and that addressing these issues is related to improved recovery. In order to address these survivor needs, PFA’s 5 basic principles are:

  1. SAFETY

Survivors may be concerned about their own safety, the safety of their loved ones and that of their community. Promotion of safety includes providing clear risk messages; addressing safety concerns; monitoring media reports/social messaging and addressing misinformation or distressing reports; and supporting family reunification, cohesion, and communication.

  • CALMING

Disasters may cause fear, distress, and anxiety. Act in a calm manner to reduce others’ distress. Help survivors identify coping skills they have used in the past and new ones they may need to feel calmer.

  • CONNECTEDNESS

Disasters often separate families, friends, and community members, and shatter the connectedness people share with one another. Help people reconnect with loved ones, or if that isn’t possible, connect them with those nearby in similar circumstances (same neighborhoods, faiths, families with young children). Help families and communities understand that recovery will be different for everyone and set up a tolerant environment for these differences.

  • SELF AND COMMUNITY EFFICACY

After a disaster, individuals may feel overwhelmed and vulnerable. Nevertheless, every survivor and community has strengths upon which to draw. Help survivors to identify and apply their strengths, learn new strategies to cope with their situation, and begin to rebuild their lives and their communities.

  • HOPE

When survivors feel that their world is falling apart and everything is hitting them at once, make every attempt to promote a sense of hope. Help them to engage in proactive activities and promote positive expectations that things will work out as best they can in the next hour, day, and week, even if they feel overwhelmed.

Who Delivers PFA?

PFA is designed for delivery by mental health and other response workers who provide early assistance to affected children, families, and adults as part of an organized response effort.

These providers may be embedded in a variety of response units, including first responders, governmental officials, health, public health, and mental health professionals, school staff, spiritual providers, media, social services staff and volunteers.

Where Should PFA Be Used?

PFA is designed to be adapted for any setting including shelters, schools, field hospitals and medical triage areas, family reception and assistance centers, acute care facilities, respite centers for first responders or other relief workers, emergency operations centers, crisis hotlines, disaster assistance service centers, homes, businesses, and other community settings.

Basic Objectives of PFA

Tailor your actions to the needs and priorities of each person you make contact with. Each encounter should include only those actions that are relevant, choosing from a combination of the following objectives:

  • Establish a human connection in a non-intrusive, compassionate manner.
  • Enhance immediate and ongoing safety and provide physical and emotional comfort.
  • Calm and orient emotionally overwhelmed or distraught individuals.
  • Help survivors tell you specifically what their immediate needs and concerns are and gather additional information as appropriate.
  • Offer practical assistance and information to help address their immediate needs and concerns.
  • Connect survivors as soon as possible to support networks, including family members, friends, neighbors, and community helping resources.
  • Support adaptive coping, acknowledge coping efforts and strengths, and empower survivors. Encourage adults, children, and families to take an active role in their recovery.
  • Be clear about your availability and your role, and (when appropriate) link the survivor to another member of your response team or to local community resources.

Professional Behavior and PFA

In the chaotic aftermath of an event, it is especially important to maintain professional behavior, including:

  • Operate only within the framework of an authorized response system.
  • Model healthy responses: be calm, courteous, organized, and helpful.
  • Be visible and available.
  • Maintain confidentiality as appropriate.
  • Remain within the scope of your expertise and your designated role.
  • Make appropriate referrals when additional expertise is needed or requested by the survivor.
  • Be knowledgeable and sensitive to issues of culture and diversity.
  • Pay attention to your own emotional and physical reactions, and practice self-care.

Preparing to Deliver PFA

Planning and preparation are important, so keep the following in mind:

  • Stay up-to-date on the latest training and research on disaster/trauma mental health.
  • Take additional courses on incident command systems, working with children, older adults, and other vulnerable populations, adapting PFA in different settings, situations, and populations.
  • Participate regularly in drills or trainings to maintain skills.
  • Educate yourself about the event, the current circumstances and those impacted by it before responding.
  • Assess your readiness to respond by assessing your comfort level with this type of work, your current health, your family and work circumstances, and your ability to engage in self-care.
  • Providing care and support in the immediate aftermath of disaster can be an enriching professional and personal experience that enhances life satisfaction through helping others. It can also be physically and emotionally exhausting. The following sections provide information to consider before, during, and after engaging in disaster relief work.
  • In deciding whether to participate in disaster response, you should consider your comfort level with this type of work and your current health, family, and work circumstances. These considerations should include a variety of topics that are covered in the rest of this section.

Personal Considerations

Assess your comfort level with the various situations you may experience while providing PFA:

  • Working with individuals who are experiencing intense distress and extreme reactions, including screaming, hysterical crying, anger, or withdrawal
  • Working with individuals in non-traditional settings
  • Working in a chaotic, unpredictable environment
  • Accepting tasks that may not initially be viewed as mental health activities (e.g., distributing water, helping serve meals, sweeping the floor)
  • Working in an environment with minimal or no supervision or, conversely, being micromanaged
  • Working with and providing support to individuals from diverse cultures, ethnic groups, developmental levels, and faith backgrounds
  • Working in environments where the risk of harm or exposure is not fully known
  • Working with individuals who are not receptive to mental health support
  • Working with a diverse group of professionals, often with different interaction styles

Health Considerations

Assess your current physical and emotional health status, and any conditions that may influence your ability to work long shifts, including:

  • Recent surgeries or medical treatments
  • Recent emotional or psychological challenges or problems
  • Any significant life changes or losses within the past 6 to 12 months
  • Earlier losses or other negative life events
  • Dietary restrictions that would impede your work
  • Ability to remain active for long periods of time and endure physically exhausting conditions
  • Availability of enough medication for the total length of your assignment plus some extra days

Family Considerations

Assess your family’s ability to cope with you responding to a disaster:

  • Is your family prepared for your absence, which may span days or weeks?
  • Is your family prepared for you to work in environments where the risk of harm or exposure to harm is not fully known?
  • Will your support system (family/friends) assume some of your family responsibilities and duties while you are away or working long hours?
  • Do you have any unresolved family/relationship issues that will make it challenging for you to focus on your duties/responsibilities?
  • Do you have a strong, supportive environment to return to after your assignment ends?

Work Considerations

Assess how taking time off to provide PFA might affect your work life:

  • Is your employer supportive of your interest and participation in disaster work?
  • Will your employer allow “leave” time from your job?
  • Will your employer require you to utilize vacation time or “absence-without-pay time” to respond as a disaster worker?
  • Is your work position flexible enough to allow you to respond to a disaster assignment within 24-48 hours of being contacted?
  • Will your co-workers be supportive of your absence and provide a supportive environment upon your return?

Personal, Family, Work, Life Plan

If you decide to participate in disaster response, take time to make preparations for the following:

  • Family and other household responsibilities
  • Pet care responsibilities
  • Work responsibilities
  • Community activities/responsibilities
  • Other responsibilities
  • In providing PFA, it is important to recognize common and extreme stress reactions, how organizations can reduce the risk of extreme stress to providers, and how best to take care of yourself during your work.
  • In providing PFA, it is important to recognize common and extreme stress reactions, how organizations can reduce the risk of extreme stress to providers, and how best to take care of yourself during your work. Common Reactions
  • Extreme Stress Reactions Organizational Care Provider Self-Care

Common Stress Reactions

You may experience a number of common stress responses, including:

  • Increase or decrease in activity level
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Substance use
  • Numbing
  • Irritability, anger, and frustration
  • Vicarious traumatization in the form of shock, fearfulness, horror, helplessness
  • Confusion, lack of attention, and difficulty making decisions
  • Physical reactions (headaches, stomach aches, easily startled)
  • Symptoms of depression or anxiety
  • Decreased social activities

Extreme Stress Reactions

You may experience more serious stress responses that warrant seeking support from a professional or monitoring by a supervisor. These include:

  • Compassion stress: helplessness, confusion, isolation
  • Compassion fatigue: demoralization, alienation, resignation
  • Preoccupation or compulsive re-experiencing of trauma experienced either directly or indirectly
  • Attempts to over-control in professional or personal situations
  • Withdrawal and isolation
  • Preventing feelings by relying on substances, becoming overly preoccupied by work, or making drastic changes in sleep (avoidance of sleep or not wanting to get out of bed)
  • Serious difficulties in interpersonal relationships, including domestic violence
  • Depression accompanied by hopelessness (which has the potential to place individuals at a higher risk for suicide)
  • Unnecessary risk-taking

Organizational Care of Providers

Managers can reduce the risk of extreme stress by putting supports and policies in place. These include:

  • Limiting work shifts to no more than 12 hours and encouraging work breaks
  • Rotating providers from the most exposed assignments to lesser levels of exposure
  • Mandating time off
  • Identifying enough providers at all levels, including admin, supervision, and support
  • Encouraging peer partners and peer consultation
  • Monitoring providers who meet certain high-risk criteria (e.g., personally impacted by the disaster, multiple stresses, pre-existing conditions)
  • Establishing supervision, case conferencing, and staff appreciation events
  • Conducting trainings on stress management practices

Provider Self-Care

Activities that promote self-care include:

  • Managing personal resources
  • Planning for family/home safety, including making childcare and pet care plans
  • Getting adequate exercise, nutrition, and relaxation

Using stress management tools regularly, such as:

  • Accessing supervision routinely to share concerns, identify difficult experiences, and strategize to solve problems
    • Practicing brief relaxation techniques during the workday
    • Using the buddy system to share upsetting emotional responses
    • Staying aware of personal limitations and needs
    • Recognizing when one is Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired (HALT), and taking the appropriate self-care measures
    • Increasing activities that are positive
    • Practicing religious faith or spirituality
    • Spending time with family and friends
    • Learning how to “put stress away”
    • Writing, drawing, and painting
    • Limiting caffeine, tobacco, and substance use

Provider Self-Care Do’s

As much as possible make every effort to:

  • Self-monitor and pace your efforts
  • Maintain boundaries: delegate, say no, and avoid working with too many survivors in a given shift
  • Perform regular check-ins with colleagues, family, and friends
  • Work with partners or in teams
  • Take relaxation/stress management/bodily care/refreshment breaks
  • Utilize regular peer consultation and supervision
  • Try to be flexible, patient and tolerant
  • Accept that you cannot change everything

Provider Self-Care Don’ts

Avoid engaging in:

  • Extended periods of solo work without colleagues
  • Working “round the clock” with few breaks
  • Negative self-talk that reinforces feelings of inadequacy or incompetency
  • Excessive use of food/substances as a support
  • After Relief Work, expect a readjustment period upon returning home. You may need to make personal reintegration a priority for a while.
  • Organizational Care
  • Provide Self-Care Do’s and Don’ts

Organizational Care of Providers

Managers should:

  • Encourage time off for providers who have experienced personal trauma or loss
  • Institute exit interviews to help providers with their experience. This should include information about how to communicate with their families about their work
  • Encourage providers to seek counseling when needed and provide referral information
  • Provide education on stress management
  • Facilitate ways providers can communicate with each other by sharing contact information, or scheduling conference calls
  • Provide information regarding positive aspects of the work

Provider Self-Care Do’s

Make every effort to:

  • Seek out and give social support
  • Check in with other relief colleagues to discuss relief work
  • Increase collegial support
  • Schedule time for a vacation or gradual reintegration into normal life
  • Prepare for worldview changes that may not be mirrored by others in your life
  • Participate in formal help to address your response to relief work if extreme stress persists for greater than two to three weeks
  • Increase leisure activities, stress management and exercise
  • Pay extra attention to health and nutrition
  • Pay extra attention to rekindling close interpersonal relationships
  • Practice good sleep routines
  • Make time for self-reflection
  • Practice receiving from others
  • Find activities that you enjoy or that make you laugh

Provider Self-Care Don’ts

Make every effort to avoid:

  • Excessive use of alcohol, illicit drugs, or excessive amounts of prescription drugs
  • Making any big life changes for at least a month
  • Negatively assessing your contribution to relief work
  • Worrying about readjusting
  • Even the best trained among us can’t always provide PFA because of a variety of life circumstances. Are you ready and able to respond?

General Guidelines for Delivering PFA

PFA is designed to be used only with those survivors who need it, not everyone you encounter. It is meant to be practical, tailored to the immediate needs and priorities of survivors, and conversational rather than clinical or formal. Therefore, it is important to:

  • Observe first, to avoid being perceived as intruding in an effort to “help.” Most survivors will be able to handle the situation with their own resources, so take care not to undermine survivors’ own resources. Initiate contact only after you have observed the situation and have determined that contact is not likely to be intrusive or disruptive.

Focus your attention on how people are reacting and interacting in the setting. Individuals who may need assistance include those showing signs of acute distress, including individuals who are:

  • Disoriented
  • Confused
  • Frantic or agitated
  • Panicky
  • Extremely withdrawn, apathetic, or “shut down”
  • Extremely irritable or angry
  • Exceedingly worried
  • The best way to make contact is to provide practical assistance (food, water, blankets).

Engaging Survivors

Once you make contact:

  • Ask simple respectful questions to determine how you may help.
  • Maintain a calm presence. People take their cue from how others are reacting. By demonstrating calmness and clear thinking, you can help survivors feel they can rely on you.
  • Be prepared that some survivors may either avoid you or flood you with contact.
  • If survivors want to talk, be prepared to listen. When you listen, focus on hearing what they want to tell you and how you can be of help.
  • Give information that directly addresses their immediate goals and clarify answers repeatedly as needed.
  • Acknowledge the positive features of what they have done to keep safe.
  • Speak calmly. Be patient, responsive, and sensitive.
  • Speak slowly, in simple concrete terms; don’t use acronyms or jargon.
  • Give information that is accurate and age-appropriate for those you are speaking to.
  • When communicating through a translator or interpreter, look at and talk to the person you are addressing, not at the translator or interpreter.

Behaviors to Avoid

Your focus should be on providing practical, pragmatic support that is respectful and tailored to the immediate needs and priorities of survivors. With this in mind, behaviors to avoid are:

  • Making assumptions about what survivors are experiencing or assuming that everyone will be traumatized.
  • Assuming that all survivors want to talk or need to talk to you.
  • Labeling reactions as “symptoms,” or speaking in terms of “diagnoses,” “conditions,” “pathologies,” or “disorders.”
  • Talking down to or patronizing the survivor, or focusing on his/her helplessness, weaknesses, mistakes, or disability.
  • “Debriefing” by asking for explicit details and reactions to what happened.
  • Speculating or offering possibly inaccurate information. If you cannot answer a question, do your best to learn the facts.

Entering the Setting

Successful entry to the setting involves working within the framework of an authorized Incident Command System (ICS), in which roles and decision-making are clearly defined. Remember to:

  • Establish communication and coordinate all activities with authorized personnel or organizations that are managing the setting.
  • Learn as much as you can about the setting (e.g., leadership, organization, policies and procedures, security, and available support services).
  • Get accurate information from authorized sources about what is currently happening, what services are available, and where they can be found. Such information is critical to reducing distress and promoting adaptive coping.

Using PFA for Groups

PFA can be offered in different types of group settings (e.g. classrooms, families, security briefings, child play areas).

When meeting with groups, keep the following in mind:

  • Provide current information about the event.
  • Attempt to dispel rumors and clarify any misunderstandings.
  • Identify resources/services currently being offered.
  • Discuss what steps are being taken to recover from the situation.
  • Address safety concerns and safety procedures being implemented.
  • Identify the group’s shared needs and concerns.
  • Problem-solve strategies to address immediate needs and concerns. Do not let discussion lapse into complaints.
  • Discuss ways the group members can help each other.
  • Provide psychoeducation about a range of responses individuals can have after events.
  • Describe coping strategies that others have found effective.
  • Discuss the role of reminders and how to manage them.
  • Identify where individualized services are being offered.

Be Sensitive to Culture and Diversity

Be sensitive to cultural, ethnic, religious, racial, and language diversity, and attempt to:

  • Be aware of your own values and prejudices, and how these may agree with or differ from those of the community being served. Before providing services, training in cultural competence can facilitate this awareness.
  • Help to maintain or reestablish customs, traditions, rituals, family structure, gender roles, and social bonds to help survivors cope with the impact of the current situation.
  • Meet with cultural brokers/leaders to learn about the community being served, including how emotions and other psychological reactions are expressed, attitudes toward government agencies and receptivity to counseling.
  • Ask those you’re serving what traditions or rituals are important to them.

Be Aware of At-Risk Populations

Be aware of individuals at special risk, including:

  • Children, especially those:
    • separated from parents/caregivers
    • whose parents/caregivers, family members, or friends have died
    • whose parents/caregivers were significantly injured or are missing
    • involved in the foster care system
  • Those who have been injured
  • Those who have had multiple relocations and displacements
  • Medically frail children and adults
  • Those with serious mental illness
  • Those with physical disabilities, illnesses, or sensory deficits
  • Adolescents who may be risk-takers
  • Adolescents and adults with substance abuse problems
  • Pregnant women
  • Mothers with babies and small children
  • Disaster response personnel
  • Those with significant loss of possessions (home, pets, family memorabilia)
  • Those exposed firsthand to grotesque scenes or extreme life threat
  • Economically disadvantaged groups who may be prone to mistrust, stigma, and fear
  • Those living in disaster-prone regions or who have experienced prior trauma

Working with Children and Adolescents

  • When working with young children, sit or crouch at the child’s eye level.
  • Help school-age children verbalize their feelings, concerns and questions; provide simple labels for common emotional reactions (mad, sad, scared, worried). Do not use extreme words like “terrified” or “horrified” because this may increase their distress.
  • Listen carefully and check in with the child to make sure you understand him/her.
  • Be aware that children may show developmental regression in their behavior and use of language.
  • Match your language to the child’s developmental level. Younger children typically have less understanding of abstract concepts like “death.” Use direct and simple language as much as possible.
  • Talk to adolescents “adult-to-adult,” so you give the message that you respect their feelings, concerns, and questions.
  • Reinforce techniques taught with the child’s parents/caregivers to help them provide appropriate emotional support to their child

Working with Older Adults

  • Not all older adults are at risk. Many older adults have additional strengths from acquiring effective coping skills over a lifetime of dealing with adversities. It may be that only frail, injured or medically/functionally impaired older adults are likely to be at risk.
  • For those who may have a hearing difficulty, speak clearly and in a low pitch.
  • Don’t make assumptions based only on physical appearance or age. For example, don’t assume that a confused elder has irreversible problems with memory, reasoning, or judgment. Reasons for apparent confusion may include: disaster-related disorientation due to change in surroundings; poor vision or hearing; poor nutrition or dehydration; sleep deprivation; a medical condition or problems with medications; social isolation; or feeling helpless or vulnerable.
  • An older adult with a mental health disability may be more upset or confused in unfamiliar surroundings. If you identify such an individual, help to make arrangements for a mental health consultation or referral.

Working with Survivors with Disabilities

  • When needed, try to provide PFA in an area with minimal noise or other stimulation.
  • Address the person directly, not the caretaker, unless direct comms is difficult.
  • If communication (hearing, memory, speech) is impaired, speak simply and slowly.
  • For those individuals who need interpretation, make sure you know how to access providers with these skills.
  • Take the word of a person who claims to have a disability–even if the disability is not obvious or familiar to you.
  • When you are unsure of how to help, ask, “What can I do to help?” and trust what the person tells you.
  • When possible, enable the person to be self-sufficient.
  • Offer a blind or visually impaired person your arm to help him/her move about in unfamiliar surroundings.
  • If needed, offer to write down information and make arrangements for the person to receive written announcements.
  • Keep essential aids (such as medications, oxygen tank, respiratory equipment, and wheelchair) with the person.
  • Facilitate the specific needs that some individuals may need (e.g. video phone, materials in Braille, risk messages in closed caption).


What you should have in your Emergency Psychological Kit

1.Psychologist’s workbook1 pc.
2.Blanket1 pc.
3.Herbal tea set (melissa, mint). 
4.Thermos1 pc.
5.Instant coffee10 disposable bags.
6.Disposable cups (glasses)25 pcs.
7.Disposable teaspoons25 pcs.
8.Disposable handkerchiefs2 packs of 10 pcs.
9.Soft children’s toys (for girls and boys)2 pcs.
10.Set of colored pencils1 set.
11.Album for drawing2 pcs.
12.Pens5 pcs.
13.Lumpy sugar1 package.
14.Flashlight (with a set of spare batteries)1 pc.
15.Cards for topping up a mobile phone account. 
16.Cigarettes2 packs.
17.Matches2 boxes.
18.Soft ball1 pc.
19.Power bank 
20.Transparent plastic bag for carrying various things2 pcs.
21.Personal hygiene products (soap, shampoo, etc.) 
22.Reflecting vest 
23.Badge with photo and logo of organization 

This kit must also contain standard medical first aid kit which includes tourniquets and gloves.

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The War in Ukraine – A Psychological Response


Alexander Dimitrevich & Stephen Nimmo

During the first days after the war started, we received several requests from different companies which had their branch offices in Ukraine. They were keen and ready to evacuate their employees, but people simply refused to leave their home towns. They refused to leave their country, this, in spite of coming under regular fire.

In the first instance we all know what patriotism feels like. However, if there is not a choice to join the army or a volunteer group, if there is not a choice to be helpful in support of the country, then a person must think of a very solid reason to stay in what is a warzone.
It may well be, simply a natural reaction. Many people have described their state of mind at this point like a form of shock and we know that this is the first stage of a typical brain response to crisis events.

Now, four months after the war began, and after hundreds of meetings, training and interviews with refugees from all over the Ukraine (including Mariupol, Irpen and Gostomel) there is a clear sense of tendencies of how our psyche works in such situations.

Of course all these stages are well known and studied but it is worth mentioning them in order to understand how we can best utilize these studies for use by organisations to provide a better response in the future.

Shock is what was being described by survivors. ‘I felt like it was a nightmare and wanted to wake up’. Some of them described their condition during the first hours. ‘I felt like I was a character in a bad movie. Sometimes I watched it in black & white. Time seems to be frozen or passing very slowly’. This is what is known as derealization. Some of them said ‘It seems like it was happening not to me but to someone else.’ This is what is called depersonalization symptoms. Both are dissociative symptoms which are quite common to a person under severe stress. Then many people described their thoughts like ‘It can’t have happened, just because it can’t have happened because it’s impossible’. This is how we go from shock to the denial stage. People are seeking for disproving facts and alternative information to convince themselves that the events are not true. This is a normal reaction to an abnormal situation. Of course, shock and denial are being followed by a number of emotions. For example, fear, horror, frustration and aggression. Knowledge about these stages is crucially important for crisis responders and for those who want to better cope in critical situations. The two primary stages can be really dangerous. They tend to make people freeze or doubt, instead of taking decisions and acting on those decisions. Sometimes, the cost of freezing, is life itself. The imperative, is to understand the stage where you are. This enables you to say to yourself, ‘this is how my stress works. I need to ACT rather than freeze.

Then you enter the realisation stage. A point at which we begin to understand that this is actually happening and it is happening to myself. Later on, there is an acknowledgement stage when the brain accepts the situation for what it is. It will then start to try and work a way out of the situation. To find a way out. This ultimately takes us to the adaptation stage.

Adaptivity is the main feature of any human being, and many other creatures for that matter, who are able to survive any circumstance or situation. The main challenge is to accept any given situation, and live through it. Our resilience and survival is in action, not in freezing.

In the current crisis, to teach people to accept themselves as they are, and to learn these strategies and coping mechanisms, Alexander Dimitrevich (GoCrisis Mental Health Associate) and Steve Nimmo (Director of Operations), created and delivered a series of training programs for their clients, and their employees, delivered in English, Ukrainian and Russian. We also provided a program of one-to-one support to those who needed it. This ultimately gave a considerable number of learning outcomes which can be utilized in the future. For those involved, the training and other support showed a very positive therapeutic effect. People began to manage to understand themselves, to accept themselves, to understand that this is the normal reaction to a given situation. They also learned to understand their colleagues, their loved ones, and others. They had an excellent opportunity to articulate how they felt in a safe environment, seeing that they are not alone, and share common issues with others. It soon became obvious to them that through shared experience, their thoughts and feelings were in common with each other. This created a group cohesion, and a good basis for the creation of peer support within the groups and beyond.

From the point of view of the company’s management, the provision of these opportunities shows a considerable duty of care towards staff. It is an investment in their welfare in the here and now, and also moving forward.

Such training provides the perfect toolkit for mitigation of social stigma of mental health disorders, because people talk openly about stress, potential trauma and different hardships. This training has become a bridge from pyscho-education and practical knowledge, to support, counselling and therapy where needed.

Also, the GoCrisis team within a framework of this training was able to explain how GoCrisis’ crisis response hotline works. The provision of multi lingual responders enables us to ensure callers can express themselves in their own language. A must in a critical situation, and a way to reduce immediate stress. In real time, GoCrisis provided many fully qualified Ukrainian psychologists working remotely or at the scene. In doing so, it has proven its ability to deploy an effective communication option for its clients, with the capability to expand as required and provide call handlers with language skills that match those in need of support.

Confidentiality is of course of paramount importance, but we have a considerable number of learning points about how such work can be better structured in the future. This would apply to many different incidents, and would affect the way we manage them.

In many cases, we have emphasised the need for welfare officers who work with the company staff structure. This would facilitate and speed up decision making processes.

While any crisis provides people’s tragedies, training and studies helps a company mitigate any future impact on its people. It also enables the organisation to provide a higher standard of response.

There have been many excellent examples from recent clients who organised the evacuation and relocation of their staff. They provided mental health support for their staff also, and we hope that in the future, this will become the norm for all companies who fully understand the need to offer support to their most valuable asset, the people who work for them.

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Using Online Channels in a Crisis


John Bailey – GoCrisis Senior Vice President

In today’s “always on” media landscape, an organisation’s ability to communicate quickly and effectively in a fast-moving crisis requires activating all online and offline channels to ensure a consistent and integrated response across every touchpoint. This is particularly important after an event which causes loss of life, when the organisation needs to quickly acknowledge and react to the human tragedy and to demonstrate genuine empathy and compassion for those affected.

This includes both the language used in public statements and the visual branding which appears on the website or on social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook or (in China) Weibo. As news begins to spread of an airline accident, for example, one of the first places families and friends of passengers will probably look for information is the airline’s website or social media pages, or alternatively to news sites which may in turn link to the website or Twitter feed. If it is already confirmed that this was a major accident with fatalities, families should not be confronted with colourful promotional messaging or photos of smiling faces on the landing page.

IATA’s “Best Practice” guidelines on Crisis Communication recommend that airlines immediately change their online branding to monochrome after an accident with fatalities, an approach which has now become standard in other sectors such as hospitality. After the terror attacks in the Sri Lankan capital Colombo on Easter Sunday 2019, two of the three hotels struck by suicide bombers greyed out their home pages and posted factual information about what had occurred, together with numbers which families could call for information. The third hotel, maintained its normal colourful branding and images of a property which was by now badly damaged in the explosion. Even then, one of the hotels which had changed its website overlooked its Facebook and Twitter pages, which continued to show the usual photos of smiling guests, employees and pristine hotel facilities, including the restaurant attacked by the bomber.

This reflects the difficulty of ensuring a consistent response across multiple touchpoints when ownership of communication channels may be fragmented, particularly in a complex or dispersed organisation. For many consumer-facing businesses, the website is an essential sales platform, and is usually “owned” by the commercial team, whose priority is to continue generating revenues, whereas the concern of the communications department is to protect brand and reputation. Resolving these conflicting priorities requires careful planning and coordination before the crisis strikes. Similarly, organisations which maintain multiple market-specific websites should have a procedure for over-riding the local administrator from head office in an emergency. This ensures that all sites associated with the organisation can be changed to appropriate branding simultaneously, as Lufthansa Group did after the Germanwings tragedy in 2015.

When Southwest Airlines suffered the first fatal event in its history in April 2018, it quickly executed a plan known internally as “Code Blue”, changing the visual branding on every online touchpoint, including its mobile booking app, to monochrome blue. The accident was caused by an uncontained engine failure which killed a passenger sat next to a window shattered by engine debris, the first fatality on a US airline in nine years. Southwest was acutely aware of how quickly an event like this could escalate on social media, and had carefully planned an online-first communication response. In the event, a passenger used the onboard wifi service to broadcast live footage from the aircraft cabin on Facebook Live – the first time live images of an aviation emergency had been streamed on the internet.

Southwest’s ability to mobilise its online channels as the primary source of information emphasized the importance of preparation, particularly in developing a “dark site” which can be activated immediately in an emergency. This does not replace the entire website, which can still be used to make bookings.  But the usual landing page is overlayed with a new screen, usually in grey scale, which omits any promotional messages or images and contains information about the accident, together with links to further information. As the response develops, updated statements can be posted to the new home page, with links to other material such as video statements from the CEO posted on YouTube.

The website should also be used to signal the gradual transition back to “business as usual”, but this must be done sensitively and in stages to avoid creating a perception that the organisation is rushing to “move on” from the crisis. Companies such as Lufthansa, FlyDubai and Air Asia each took several weeks to transition back to their normal online branding after fatal events. Following the loss of an Air Asia Indonesia Airbus A320 in 2014, AirAsia Group monitored the extent of media coverage and social media sentiment country by country before it slowly transitioned its country-specific websites back to their normal branding, starting with unaffected markets (countries such as Japan, which had no citizens on board flight QZ8501) before eventually restoring the website for Indonesia and the group website hosted in Malaysia. Southwest transitioned its online branding over the course of a week, having lost one passenger on flight 1380. Even then, the airline consulted with the victim’s family and monitored social media sentiment carefully to ensure it was transitioning sensitively and with utmost consideration.

Ensuring that the organisation is ready to mobilise its online communication channels, including the website, as part of a coordinated and holistic response to a crisis is now an essential part of crisis planning and preparation. In the worst case, failure to acknowledge the human tragedy by continuing to show colourful promotional messages or smiling faces on the main website is likely to offend families who have lost loved ones, and leave the organisation open to accusations of being insensitive or disrespectful.

Shangri-la Colombo dark website after the bombings. They did an excellent job at communicating consistently across all channels. 
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Emergency Response Program Activation Evolution


Oussama Salah – GoCrisis Associate

For a long time, an Emergency Response Program (ERP) was prepared to handle an aircraft accident and/or incident.  If you were a progressive operator, you would have included major flight disruptions at your main base(s) due to airport closures mainly for weather conditions or runway closures.

ERP activation has evolved as threats to aviation have evolved with pandemics, terrorism, security, and health threats becoming prominent events.  The mandating of Safety Management System (SMS) has introduced systematic Risk Management processes and placed emphasis on Emergency Response.

Smaller general aviation operators, operating internationally, carrying high net worth clients to smaller airports with little support on an unscheduled basis face a myriad of challenges.  Their Emergency Response Program activation must consider all the evolving threats.  Family Assistance had to be developed to go beyond passengers and their families to include incidents and threats to personnel and property such as sabotage, bomb, and biological threats, communicable diseases along with pandemics.

This is further complicated if you happen to operate in conflict zones.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the world had to deal with Ebola, SARS, Avian (bird) Flu (H1N5), MERS, and Swine Flu (H1N1).  In addition, operating to certain regions of the world where communicable diseases such as Malaria, Dengue Fever, Chikungunya, Yellow Fever and Zika fever among a longer list of diseases.  This has added a new category of inflight incidents dealing with the outbreak of communicable diseases.

The Emergency Response plan needs to have an emphasis on Media Response and Business Continuity.

A small operator with a limited number of clients cannot afford bad publicity. Consequently, Media Response becomes a very important part of ERP if the company is to survive.  It is imperative to convey the right message to the clients, brokers, and service providers.  Tell the story of how robust your response was.

Similarly, Business Continuity is another important aspect of the Emergency Response when your offices are compromised for any reason and must be vacated.  The COVID-19 imposed lockdown is a prime example.  The ability to operate remotely, whether from home or alternative locations becomes fundamental to the survival of the organization.

Operators need to monitor the evolving threat environment and constantly update their ERP activation issues.

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Notebooks…


Gillean Parrish – GoCrisis Associate

I have kept all my notebooks throughout my career as an Emergency Response Professional for an incredible airline, and Wow!… Looking back it was exciting!

The Highlights?

Being given the opportunity to make a difference.  To assist people during their darkest hours of chaos and trauma, to know and understand their needs, and to quietly and confidently guide them through what may be the worst day of their life.  To be the person who was called on to “do the right thing” by our guests, for the company, and for the families of the affected.

We call them “Medical Emergencies”. So many stories, so many lives touched by “just doing my job”. I have responded to these emergencies hundreds of times, but let’s focus on one response, one emergency, one family at a time…

Diversion!

It’s around 21:00. A notification from our Operations Control Centre (OCC) goes off on my phone: MEDICAL EMERGENCY–DIVERSION!

I take a deep breath… my heart races a bit and my hands get a little sweaty, but I quickly gather my thoughts. First things first… get all the information available.  Who, what, where, when, and why, share equal priority.

I contact my OCC, they tell me what they know so far.

The guest having the emergency is unresponsive and travelling with one other person.  They will be diverting into a station where our company does not have boots on the ground.  This means one thing…I won’t be deploying and advising a Special Assistance Team member. I’m it.

I receive the contact information for the guests.

Time to make the difficult call. This is never easy.

I highly suggest being prepared with your narrative in advance; this is a cold call, and you have no idea who will be on the receiving end of the phone.  Be confident in your approach, be calm, be respectful, be compassionate.  The person on the other end of the phone is experiencing trauma.

Within minutes I learn that the guest’s husband has passed away, that she is alone in a strange place, without her belongings, and without her life partner.  It’s not easy to detach yourself from the high emotion of the situation, but it’s critical for you to do so if you are going to be of any assistance.  Rapport is quickly established.  I have become “their person”, their lifeline for understanding and implementing the logistics that will see them through their time of crisis.

I take care of her needs the best I can, despite operating remotely.  I am her support for all things logistical.  Hotel, return flight, information on repatriation, arranging support at outbound airport, support through customs, support onboard, and support at the arriving station.  I also manage her expectations, being honest about timelines and what I can and cannot pay for.

All is going “textbook”.  She is in touch with family back home.  It is time for her to complete this most unexpected and unwanted journey.  The paperwork is done, security is cleared, and her husband’s ashes are in her hands.

But in this particular story, the twist comes at the end.

I get a call from an agent.  Our guest is upset and refuses to board because she has only one seat.  The call from the agent described how the woman was holding tightly to her husband’s remains.  I think about it for a moment, and then I understand… It has been barely a week since our guest’s husband passed, and she is not ready to stow him under the seat or in the overhead bin.  She wants him seated beside her.  With the assistance of the gate agent and crew, an exception was made, and we managed to block a middle and window seat.  Our guest sits in the middle, her husband’s urn wrapped in her sweater beside her in the window seat, both guest and precious cargo belted in, and both heading home together.  She was grateful for our understanding of what she was needing, and for allowing it to happen.  She shared later in an email of gratitude that she was terrified to board alone, knowing her husband had a seat gave her comfort and helped her feel secure.

Even in some of the smoothest activations, unanticipated circumstances can blindside you in the end.  You’ve just been through emotional turmoil, and you’re primed to have the situation finally resolved, but it’s not over until it’s over.

You have to be ready to continue doing your job because the smallest details can have the biggest impact.  From notification to repatriation, taking care of people affected by trauma and crisis is humbling, touching, rewarding, and at times exhausting.  When you can provide the people affected with structure, timely factual information, and a compassionate ear, you are making a huge difference to their suffering.

Listen for what may appear to be the “small things”…“Why is she refusing to board?”.  Manage expectations.  Never over-promise and under deliver.  As we were trying to secure a seat for her husband’s remains and an okay from the captain, our guest was aware that there may not be a second seat available, and that the crew may require stowage for take-off and landing.

Know that your quiet presence and availability to help with the small things, like bringing someone their personal items, helping them contact family, or simply assisting with airport support, can maximize the best possible start to a traumatized person’s long journey of healing.

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Safety Governance – Let’s Get It Right!


Mike Plottel – GoCrisis Senior Associate

Clarity on safety governance is always important to an organization and it has become even more so as companies regroup following the Covid-19 pandemic.  During the pandemic many organizations  undertook massive realignment of resources and priorities in pursuit of survival and profitability, so it is important to ensure that safety accountabilities and responsibilities remain appropriately placed and well defined within the corporate structure.

To ensure an effective safety governance model, safety accountabilities and responsibilities must be well understood throughout the organization.  Under a typical Safety Management System (SMS) the Accountable Executive (usually the CEO) is accountable to their Board of Directors and to regulatory authorities for safety performance.  Each leader reporting to the Accountable Executive is responsible for safety performance within their department or section, and the Head of Safety (or Safety Manager, Director of Safety, VP Safety, etc.) is responsible to establish and maintain an effective SMS.

This governance structure is relatively straightforward for smaller organizations where the CEO has a direct  relationship with, and good visibility into, each segment of their business.  Ensuring appropriate safety governance  becomes more difficult in larger organizations with multiple business units, each of which may have its own CEO and regulatory oversight.  In these complex organizations, each business unit may have its own Accountable Executive for regulatory purposes, while the group CEO retains accountability to their Board of Directors.

Some complex organizations have decided to consolidate business units’ safety teams and processes at the group level.  This structure provides cost savings, ensures consistency across business units, eliminates redundancies and enables easier safety performance management.  If organizational needs or regulations do not require each business unit to appoint an Accountable Executive and Head of Safety, the consolidated group safety team can achieve these goals so long as it is appropriately resourced and maintains a positive working relationship with each business unit.  In this scenario, safety governance can be  maintained at the group level.

Should Safety Be Your Organization’s Top Priority?

Safety is often proclaimed as an organization’s top priority because, without customer, employee and shareholder confidence in safe operations, all other business functions become less important or even irrelevant.  But setting safety as the organization’s top priority is not enough to effectively protect people and assets and to ensure the long-term viability of the organization.

One weakness of this model is that priorities change with time and circumstances.  We certainly saw this happen during the Covid-19 pandemic when many organizations raised basic survival to the top of their priority lists.  By simply espousing safety as its top priority the organization cannot embed a burning desire for safety into its culture and each member’s psyche.

To truly entrench safety in everything we do, the organization must embrace safety as a core value which is reflected in all its activities from onboarding of employees to process development, change management, performance measurement and even its management systems.

When every member of the organization takes responsibility for individual and collective safety, and the organization encourages this behaviour, safety becomes a core value as well as a top priority.  Only then can customers, employees and shareholders be truly confident that everything possible is being done to ensure their long-term individual, collective and corporate wellbeing.

In cases where a group safety team is established but each business unit retains its own Accountable Executive and Head of Safety, care must be taken to ensure that only transactional activities are centred in the group safety team and that appropriate safety responsibilities, accountabilities and resources remain at the business unit level.  Some examples of transactional safety activities include performance of audits and investigations, document management and safety data analysis.  

A complex corporate structure of this nature might exist in a large airline group with multiple business units, such as international, domestic, regional and cargo operations, each managing its own aircraft under a separate Air Operator Certificate.  Each business unit would be required to  appoint its own regulated post-holders, including an Accountable Executive and a Head of Safety.  In this case, safety governance becomes more complex and care must be taken to ensure the governance model meets organizational and regulatory requirements. The model must recognize that each business unit CEO is accountable to the regulator and to the group CEO for safety performance and each Head of Safety is responsible to the regulator and their business unit’s CEO to carry out their mandated duties.

If a complex organization decides to establish a group safety team, it is critical to embed appropriate structures and procedures that recognize the desired (or regulated) safety governance model.  These structures and procedures must be reflected in safety responsibilities such as ownership of group-wide processes and procedures, performance reporting and compliance monitoring.  Significant collaboration is required between all stakeholders to establish and maintain effective group-wide safety standards, processes and procedures.  In rare cases where group-wide procedures do not meet the needs of all business units, variances will be required and a process to record, manage and review these variances must be established. 

A safety governance model must be appropriate to the size, nature and complexity of the organization.  For the model to be effective, safety accountabilities and responsibilities must be appropriately assigned and understood by every member of the organization.  A well-designed safety governance model that is integrated into roles and responsibilities throughout the organization will support an effective Safety Management System, regulatory compliance and a healthy safety culture.

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Characteristics of Effective Disaster Family Assistance Team Members


Dr. Grady P. Bray, PHD – GoCrisis Senior Associate

During more than 40 disaster responses, the characteristics of effective family support team members became surprisingly consistent.  The same characteristics transcended nationality, sex, religion and culture. The intent in identifying and discussing these characteristics is two-fold:

  1. Confirmation and reassurance for those identifying similar traits within themselves and,
  2. Provide clear goals for those trying to improve themselves and become more effective as disaster response team members.


While these characteristics may initially appear innate, a part of your personality and genetic heritage since birth, most are acquired traits which can be taught, practiced, and incorporated into a person’s skills repertoire.

THE ABILITY TO LISTEN

This may seem surprisingly simple, but the primary activity of family support responders is to help families clarify their needs.  Much of this work pertains to the logistical needs of the families.  In order to accomplish this, work the emphasis must remain on the family.  It is not a time for the responder to share their similar experiences nor their feelings.  If the focus remains on the families and their needs, there is minimal danger that the responder will inadvertently harm the family through the sharing of personal ideas, suggestions, problem-solving, values or guidance.

The strategy to maximizing support to the family is for the responder to minimize their comments and, instead, reframe the families’ words when appropriate to provide feedback to the family.  This clarifies for the family that they are being heard and the intended message has been communicated.

THE ABILITY TO COMMUNICATE NON-VERBALLY

More than 70% of what humans communicate is non-verbal, without words.  Facial expressions, hand movements and body posture contribute to the information shared with others.  Whether this improves the understanding of messages or detracts from them is critical during a time of crisis.  Family assistance and emergency responders interact with families during an extremely difficult period of their lives.  Agreement between the spoken words and non-verbal messages is essential for families to fully understand the desired messages prepared for them.

Non-verbal communication is a skill which can be acquired through education, training, and practice.  For cross-cultural work this is especially important.

THE ABILITY TO DOCUMENT

During a crisis, immediate and short-term memories are not created as usual.  Responders often get frustrated because families seem to require frequent reminders of the same information.  It is helpful to document key information provided by or to families using a physical pad or electronic media.  It is critical to be aware of confidentiality and never record information which can be seen by others or embarrass the family.  When no longer needed, paper should be cross-shredded and burned while electronic information should be deleted including cloud or other back-up options.

The creation of a daily family schedule has often been identified by families as particularly helpful.  Families do not forget much of the information presented to them, they simply do not create the memory units.  Filling those gaps for them in a non-threatening way saves them embarrassment and increases the effectiveness of their family support experience.

THE ABILITY TO BE KIND

Kindness includes the ability to be considerate, generous, and friendly.  Generosity does not mean financially but refers to a willingness to be present when needed, to give of one’s time.     Supporting families in crisis is a one-way relationship.  Responders should not abuse families by expecting them to reciprocate kindness, friendship, or generosity. Not all families are nice.  Some are frustrating and difficult.  Even so, effective responders can work with difficult families because they understand the nature of their relationship with the family.  It is not mutual, rather solely focused on the family and their needs.

THE ABILITY TO FOLLOW

Many disaster and crisis responders have ideas about how a response should evolve.  They have ideas which they believe would make the response more effective or efficient.  Such thoughts are not unusual given the nature of people attracted to emergency, crisis and disaster response.  Responders are typically action oriented and have higher than usual leadership qualities.  Effective responders can focus their desire to lead on the tasks and functions appropriate to their position in the response.  They understand the deployment hierarchy and the need to operate within the organizational structure.

For disaster response, leadership is desired, but “follow-ship” is critical.

THE ABILITY TO STAY HEALTHY

One of the essential traits of effective responders is the ability to say, “No”.  Everyone wants to deploy if they choose to attend trainings and prepare themselves for deployment.  One of the more difficult decisions occurs when you are asked if you can deploy, and you know you are not healthy enough to deploy.  To deploy when you are not physically fit not only places you in danger but can affect all those with whom you come in contact. During one family assistance operation, a team member had initial symptoms of the flu but did not report them when called to deploy because he wanted so desperate to go.  His decision resulted in more than 20 of his fellow team members becoming ill with the flu. To deploy it is essential to maintain the highest possible level of health and fitness. Deployments are physically taxing with long days and often emotionally exhausting work.

THE ABILITY TO BE BRAVE

The unknown is frightening.  Deployments often require travel to unknow areas, cultures, foods, and people.  Family support and disaster responders often find themselves confronting their fears and prejudices.  Being courageous does not mean abandoning reasoning nor ignoring the essential practice of “situational awareness”.  Bravery is making an informed decision in the face of real or perceived danger.

During one large scale, terrorism related deployment, more than 100 family support workers were aiding affected family members.  On the third day of the deployment the leadership team was informed that a secondary attack was highly probable on the following day. The attack was to be an anthrax dispersal using stolen fogging machines.  The informing agencies encouraged evacuation of all personnel.

At the evening briefing, team members were provided the information and informed that transportation had been arranged. Everyone had two hours to pack before the arrival of the buses.  Everyone who remained had to be “fit tested” for respirators and protective gear.  Men would need to shave their beards and moustaches.  Representatives from the fire department health and safety team would provide the training and assessment.  The biohazard equipment was available on one side of the room.

After I finished the briefing the room was filled with worried comments from one team member to another.  Suddenly the room became quiet as a woman stood near the center of the room.  In a gentle voice she said, “Thank you for the buses coming to evacuate us but when the doors open in the morning, I will be waiting for my family.”  She slowly worked her way between the chairs and headed over to be fitted for her protective gear.  As she was moving, another team member said, “I will be here for my family too.”  Quickly the room filled with people affirming their choices to greet their families the next morning.  Not one person chose to leave that night.  The next morning, after a long night of learning to “doff and don” their protective gear, team members met their returning families at the family assistance center.  I was never prouder of a group of people than on that night when they displayed their courage and commitment to the families they served.

SUMMARY

These characteristics have emerged during forty years of research, training, and deployments.  New family assistance team members join a worldwide cadre of those dedicated to assisting families with the highest levels of compassion and professionalism.  They do this knowing that it is often through our service to others that we discover the meaning of our own lives.

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How do you make your organisation more resilient?


Andrew Couper – GoCrisis Senior Associate

Just-in-Time or, Just-in-Case?

Coronavirus, Brexit, cybercrime, extreme weather, container ships stuck in the Suez Canal, each one a disruptive incident impacting on transport operations and supply chain logistics. Recent surveys have placed Business Continuity as a top priority for logistics managers. There are also indications that there is beginning to be a move away from “just-in-time” logistics to “just-in-case” requiring greater stockpiling and alternate supply lines. Government may also soon be pushing businesses to demonstrate greater resilience as the latest UK Government “Integrated Review of Security, Defence and Foreign Policy”, requires a “new approach to national resilience” which includes improving UK business resilience.

My experience of last year, as a Crisis & Emergency Response consultant, specialising in Organisational Resilience, was that some organisations who had already committed to business continuity coped well, but that many organisations’ resilience was dependent upon those particular managers who just happened to be good at crisis management, using the same business procedures as usual, but having to pack in more work over much longer hours.

Looking to the future will organisations be saying, “glad we got through that, let’s get back to normal trading again” or, “could we have handled that better and are there lessons to be learned to benefit future trading?”

How efficient are companies’ resilience arrangements?

Many companies have all or some of the basic elements of a resilient organisation, but they are not always connected and/or operating efficiently. They often exist as separate processes for Business Risk, Business Continuity, routine Health & Safety Incident Management, Emergency Planning, Crisis Communications, IT Disaster Recovery, Security and Cyber Security. If some, or all of these processes do not have the full support of the organisation’s leaders, what may have begun as good practice backed with the best of intentions can soon become disconnected, seen as the responsibility of a particular department or person rather than the whole organisation and, in the worst case, plans and processes become difficult to maintain, paperwork intensive and can just be seen as a form-filling exercise by staff, with the plans languishing on a shelf, or in a forgotten file. This situation was highlighted by a survey last year conducted by the Business Continuity Institute after the initial response to Coronavirus, which found that many organisations thought that their existing plans were: “too complicated, too specific to threats and individual departments, not widely understood and unable to adapt, and consequently often ignored by operations managers and senior management as they dealt with the initial impact of Coronavirus.”

Can we do resilience better?

ISO 9001 Quality Management, ISO 31000 Risk Management, ISO22301 Business Continuity Management and ISO 27001 Information Security Management, are some of the internationally recognised standards providing widely accepted good practice, but full compliance is not always suitable for every organisation, but it is still possible to achieve a high level of organisational resilience by aligning with these standards with simpler processes.

We advise organisations to follow three steps to resilience with the aim of ensuring senior managers across an organisation know:

  • the service they are required to deliver
  • the risk to their organisation if their service is disrupted (understanding the interdependencies with other services)
  • the disruptive risks to their service
  • the controls required to mitigate the risk of disruption to their service, and
  • the response to a disruptive incident.

The three steps to resilience are:

Step 1: LEADERSHIP – Strategic Commitment

  • Make “Organisational Resilience” a Strategic Objective. This will commit the organisation to be  If this is not done, resilience activity like response training will always take second place to other, named strategic priorities
  • Senior management must support, and enforce where necessary, any changes to plans and processes that are required to improve resilience.
  • Consider crisis management as personal development for managers. It requires the management skills of analysing lots of (often conflicting) information, prioritising and acting under pressure, quickly and repetitively over a sustained period of time.

Step 2: EMBEDDING RESILIENCE – Risk identification & control

  • An organisation’s Board or Risk Committee should Identify disruption as a risk and Business Continuity as a risk
  • Manage all Risk Controls and Business Continuity together to reduce duplication of effort and ensure all aspects of resilience receive the same attention as Business Risk. Business Risk is often dealt with at a higher level than other resilience subjects because it is financeled, a regulatory requirement for most businesses, and the Managing Director/Chief Executive, and other senior managers, tend to all sit on an organisation’s Risk Committee.

Step 3: IMPLEMENTATION – Incident/Emergency Management

  • Common Process
    Identify a common process for emergency response/crisis management for any type of incident.  Despite there being an infinite number of risks and emergency types that could affect a business, they basically have the same consequences which are the need to assemble a senior management team to manage the incident, the impact on business reputation, the requirement to care for people and the financial cost to the company in lost business, and from responding to and recovering from the incident.
  • Thresholds and Consequences
    Producing a common process requires you to plan for the generic consequences of an emergency, not every possible emergency scenario.  Identifying common consequences will show that Emergency Management can be activated for Business Continuity, IT Disaster Recovery and Security situations.  The point at which an organisation moves from dealing with a disruptive incident as a routine operating procedure to identifying the requirement for Emergency Management can be defined as quantified alerting points, e.g.
    • Service unable to operate for x hours
    • Damaging weather in x hours
    • x data lost
    • x number of fatalities
    • £ x worth of damage
    • x staff off sick
  • Over-Respond
    When using the alerting points, respond on the basis that, “too much, too soon is better than too little, too late.” At worst if you activate and realise you could have responded using routine operating procedures, you have gained a fantastic training opportunity and the more the use of Emergency Management is seen as a routine within an organisation, the wider the understanding of how different emergencies can affect an organisation’s operations, the more people a company will have trained, and experienced Emergency.  Management, and therefore more resilient, and arguably more efficient, a company will be

What can possibly go wrong?

Most failures in making an organisation more resilient, relate to the following lessons observed in many organisations, over many years:

  • Lesson 1: Leadership
    Building resilience generally requires an element of change.  Reluctance to support change is generally the biggest barrier to improving resilience.  Without leadership from the very top of an organisation, resilience is difficult to implement.
  • Lesson 2: Partnerships
    Building resilience and responding to crises relies on partnerships, whether it is between 3 people in a departmental team, 3 departments, or 3 organisations.  Good partnerships provide the best achievable resilience and the most efficient responses.
  • Lesson 3: Team Training
    The best response plans in the world won’t work properly if you don’t train with them.
  • Lesson 4: Personal Development
    The more an organisation relies on “those that can”, the less likely they are to use standardised procedures and train, therefore the more reliant they become on “those that can”, the less resilient they are.

Looking Forward

All organisations will have learned lessons about the state of their resilience during the past year.  In our increasingly interconnected world, the potential for disruptive incidents is increasing.  Coronavirus has given all organisations the opportunity to ask themselves, “are we as resilient as we could be?” What’s your organisation’s answer?

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Airline’s Response to Natural Disasters


An Interview With Mary Ruiz, GoCrisis Associate

GoCrisis Associate, Mary Ruiz, has first-hand experience with the impact of a major hurricane and its effect on impacted communities. She has been involved in several recovery efforts, especially the major hurricanes that impacted Puerto Rico and the Caribbean Islands in 2017. Ruiz said as hurricanes and other natural disasters become more frequent, airlines are becoming more involved in relief activates. Ruiz recently spoke with GoCrisis about her relief experience as an airline supervisor and gave advice to emergency managers and first responders on how to respond after a natural disaster. 

Q: Airlines are increasingly responding to incidents involving natural disasters. Why do you think that this is occurring?

A: We all know the global warming situation is getting worse. Unfortunately certain areas are not fully aware of the potential damage that can happen. When these disasters are happening in countries for the first time, many governments are not prepared, or they have a lack of experience in handling a recovery an effort. Airline emergency managers have the knowledge to manage breaking situations with emergencies, bringing a level of expertise to these kinds of situations.

Q: During your experience in the recovery work in Puerto Rico, what were some of the typical kinds of requests from first responders on the ground?

A: Puerto Rico is an island, so the only way on and off the island is by aircraft. My airline provided supplies and coordinated with relief organizations to transport more supplies and relief personnel to assist with the effort. We also evacuated people who could not stay in the country because of medical reasons. The first requests were for electric generators and food supplies, so airlines were extremely important because they served as the lifeline for battered communities.

Q: How did you manage a high stress situation in a scenario where most airlines don’t have the experience?

A: It was difficult, especially during the evacuation process.  Airlines had little information until the last minute regarding who would be one the aircraft, and much of the communication had to take place using satellite phones due to the lack of internet or telephone connectivity. One of the major obstacles was the inability to communicate the numerous manifest changes that were taking place at the station, as hundreds of evacuees were showing up for each aircraft departing the island. The airport was extremely crowded, the weather was hot and humid, there was no power and thus no air conditioning, and due to the sheer numbers, many people were forced to wait outside the terminal. Some were sleeping outside for days waiting to evacuate! In time, officials where were able to better organize new procedures, install satellite equipment, and prepare passengers lists along with much-needed supplies from inbound flights.

Q: Do you think an emergency manager should prepare action steps in their emergency plan to handle relief requests after a natural disaster?

A: Definitely. We received hundreds of requests from people who wanted to leave Puerto Rico. An aircraft holds a limited number of passengers. There were various lists and officials who were using different methods of communication. The airport was hot, crowded, and people were extremely emotional. It’s important to plan for situations like this.

Q: What are the lessons learned from your experience?

A: First of all, be more human. We have to be more compassionate with one another, and empathy is key. Emotions run high during these situations and the ability to view all of it from the perspective of those affected is important.  We have to care for people in the same manner as we would care for our own loved ones in a crisis.  Certainly, all airlines require revenue and want to continue operating during these situations, but we prioritized the care and safety of people above revenue in this crisis.  As a result, when it was over, people remembered how they were cared for them and actively supported our airline, thus strengthening our business and brand reputation.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

A:  Airlines are very competitive and focused on their bottom lines during normal operations; however, in crisis situations, those priorities change.  I am grateful to have been a part of the incredible experience of all the airlines working together during this crisis. We became like one family, and through our shared experiences, we were able to make the best of a very difficult situation.

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Crisis Communications During Operational Challenges


Mario Gomez – GoCrisis, VP Global Communications

Now more than ever, airlines are facing unique challenges. Covid restrictions, fluctuations in the numbers of passengers for flights, severe weather conditions, technology failures, and staffing shortages are just some of the growing list of issues impacting airlines and the flying public.

Below is a checklist of action steps to keep in mind to help manage communications during an airline operational crisis:

  • Communicate early when emerging operational issues may impact flight schedules. Get ahead of the story! Be the first to explain the impact of the operational crisis on customers and passengers, and what the company is doing to mitigate it. (Who, what, where, when, why, and how.)
  • Prepare a statement for station managers and prepare a call centre script with the appropriate information with possible questions and answers, using FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions). Make sure to include all critical stakeholders in its distribution, such as ground handling personnel, pilots, and flight attendants. Consider including union representatives, as well.
  • Prepare your media spokesperson and make this individual available for interviews. Be proactive; don’t wait for the news media to come to you. Take accountability before a problem becomes a significant incident. People will forgive an organization for operational issues such as weather, staffing, or technology failures. They won’t forgive an inadequate or uncaring response, which could have a lasting impact on the brand and possibly the organization’s future.
  • If operational interruptions last for an extended period, the CEO or a key leader in your organization should serve as the airline spokesperson. Protecting the image and the public perception is the role of top leaders. Prepare talking points with potential questions and answers. If time allows, conduct a dry run of a mock media interview and create a YouTube statement.
  • Speak with empathy and compassion when making an apology to passengers and customers. People will be angry and on an emotional edge when their plans are interrupted. Leadership must be empathetic to the concerns of customers.
  • Be empathetic to all staff, especially to frontline workers. Public-facing team members are under tremendous stress when an organization is struggling to regain its operation. Unfortunately, they bear much of the anger of displaced customers, often while being recorded on social media. Your organization must provide them with timely updates that extend empathy to them, as well. Validate their frustration and treat them with kindness, as they are your best ambassadors.
  • Use your communication tools wisely. Issue frequent updates to the news media, and all appropriate social media platforms, regarding the progress and expected return to normal operations. Make the best use of your website for updates, up to and including possible activation of your company’s dark site.
  • Be cognitive of your tone and voice inflexions. Speaking with words of compassion is one thing; however, having a condescending or flippant vocal tone will make you appear unconcerned and unbelievable to your audience.
  • Be aware of your background and office furnishings when providing online interviews. They can distract from your message and convey unintended messages to those watching. 
  • During a crisis, centralize all communications, marketing, and promotions within your Incident Command. Posting smiling employees with offers to “Join our Team” or announcing a new sale or destination on social media only adds to the anger of people affected when some departments are unaware of the severity of an operational crisis.
  • Activate your Incident Command Team early. The best way to coordinate a response to a crisis is through the early activation of an Incident Command Team. They keep everyone updated and aware of the situation from a central location (even if it’s virtual). Do not wait until a crisis has already overwhelmed an organization to activate this essential team. Your PR, Communications, and Social Media representatives will play a critical role in the success of your operational recovery.
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