Helping in Times of Crisis: Critical Incident Response Services

Posted on December 30, 2014 by VITAL WorkLife

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One of the many solutions we offer—and brings proven, valuable support to any organization, large or small—is what is commonly referred to as "critical incident response" (CIR) services. We all hope that we never have to face a traumatic workplace incident. However, you may one day be in a position where employees will look to you for guidance and leadership following a critical incident. Being prepared and informed is essential.

What is a Critical Incident?

A critical incident in the workplace is a sudden, traumatic event that is overwhelming, emotionally charged and sometimes dangerous. Examples of critical incidents include:

  • Natural disasters
  • Robberies and assaults
  • Bomb threats
  • Death or injury on or off the job

We also get called when companies are going through layoffs or downsizing to work with both the employees who will be leaving, as well as with the employees who will remain. The latter often need support to cope with multiple emotions such as sadness, anger and what is sometimes referred to as "survivor's guilt."

Healthcare organizations often have unique needs where CIR can help. Most common are those which involve adverse events which can deeply affect departments and teams. Another time when CIR could be valuable would be after the organization has had an influx of serious injuries and deaths due to a major disaster such as a tornado or plane crash, causing emotional trauma to the employees who are on the front lines.

Another way CIR is used is by schools, when a student dies unexpectedly. While VITAL WorkLife provides employee benefits, CIR services are provided on a fee-for-service basis, so we are occasionally called upon to assist with something such as this involving an organization's customers or stakeholders. An example of this would be if we are called to help the citizens of a municipality which uses our EAP services for their employees, but which has experienced a disaster, such as a fire or flood, which has caused trauma to the broader community. As an EAP, we can provide both emotional and practical support and information on available resources.

Common Responses to Critical Incidents

Following a traumatic incident, everyone experiences some kind of emotional response. Signs of obvious distress may include the following symptoms:

Physical: Sweating, dizzy spells, increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure, rapid breathing.

Behavioral: Appetite changes, irritability, withdrawal from others, prolonged silences, uncontrollable crying spells, and other changes in ordinary behavior patterns.

Emotional: Shock, anger, grief, depression, hopelessness and helplessness.

Cognitive: Confused thinking, difficulty making decisions, disorientation.

If employees display any of the above signs, reassure them that their reactions are normal. Encourage them to call their EAP if they would like confidential assistance at any time. Recovering from a traumatic incident can be a long and difficult process. Each person will deal with emotions at his or her own rate.

How to Request Onsite CIR Services

As noted above, CIR services are most often provided on a fee-for-service basis and are not typically included with our EAP plans. They can be provided to individuals, workgroups or across the organization. HR managers can access them easily.

  1. Contact Us and tell us that you have experienced a critical incident at your workplace. The phone is answered 24/7 and we always have qualified staff available.
  2. One of our account managers will ask for additional information to assess the situation.
  3. Once the account manager has the necessary information, he or she will begin making the arrangements for a specialist trained in CIR to come to the site at the requested time and location—typically within 24-72 hours after the incident has occurred, depending on the circumstances.
  4. As soon as a CIR specialist is assigned, he or she will contact you to make specific arrangements.

If you have any questions about CIR services, please do not hesitate to Contact Us.

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