Your emergency plans probably cover when and how to evacuate, how you’ll get the message out across multiple channels and how you’ll maintain business continuity until the recovery period is over. But does your plan account for your occupants’ emotional needs?
Whether it’s a natural disaster or a manmade crisis, witnessing a traumatic event can leave employees and guests reeling. You don’t want to have to scramble to bring in someone for debriefing when the worst happens, especially if it’s a large-scale disaster where mental health experts are needed anywhere and everywhere at once.
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Address this deficiency before it happens by making sure your crisis plans include how to help anyone who’s affected.
Crucial Elements of Crisis Plans
Every emergency plan should address all three phases of the emergency, according to Dr. Lynn Linde, Senior Director of the Center of Counseling Practice, Policy and Research for the American Counseling Association:
- Prevention: What can be done to prevent emergencies from happening?
- Intervention: How should the issues caused by the emergency be addressed? This includes who is in charge and who is responsible for executing which actions.
- Postvention: What should be done after the crisis to help the people impacted? Who will provide those services and how will it happen?
It’s the third category that often falls short when it comes to helping individuals recover. Postvention plans likely include agreements with local contractors for cleanup, for instance, but not a similar agreement with a counseling center that can be deployed around the same time.
“The plan should include counseling services in the postvention phase," Linde explains. “Ideally, counselors would already be identified either through the employee assistance program (EAP) or through an organization or practice that specializes in crisis counseling and would be able to immediately mobilize to provide counseling.”
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Your postvention crisis plan should also delegate roles to different members of your organization, like how you assign roles for evacuation, sheltering in place or other emergency plan elements.
- Who makes the decision to bring in a crisis counselor?
- Who decides which office the counselors can occupy temporarily and who's in charge of getting that office ready?
- How might that change if your building is impacted by a crisis and the staff has to work remotely for a while?
“The difference in roles may be spelled out in the plan, may be a legal issue or may depend on the particular event,” Linde explains. “Someone in a meeting having a heart attack is a very different situation from a mass shooter or a storm that is causing massive flooding. In any instance, there is a need to address the needs of the persons involved.”
What Crisis Counseling Will People Need?
The specific crisis counseling services you’ll engage through your emergency plan depend on the nature of the traumatic event.
For example, if you’re managing an owner-occupied office building and a member of the staff fell ill and died, you may decide to bring in a single grief counselor to help people work through things.
If a wildfire or flood has destroyed the homes of multiple staff members or there’s been a violent incident at work, you might bring in several crisis counselors at once so that everyone can debrief in a timely manner.
Everyone reacts differently to traumatic events.
“Some people may directly be involved at the time and need immediate services. Others may see it but are not immediately impacted and may not require immediate assistance,” Linde says. “However, counseling and other services should be available to all, not just immediately following the event, but on an ongoing basis; some people will not show any effects of seeing or being involved until much later.”
Linde gives the example that someone who witnesses a shooting may appear to be fine at first, but weeks later may be very upset by loud noises. Or a car backfiring sets them off as it triggers the memory of the shooting.
What Belongs in a Crisis Counseling Plan?
If your workplace has an EAP program set up, they may be able to help connect people with trained counselors. If not, consider reaching out to the state licensing boards that license counselors to practice independently. State counseling associations and community crisis organizations may be able to provide referrals as well, Linde adds.
Alternately, you can reach out to local counseling practices and develop an agreement to provide services in an emergency, just like you’d pre-contract with a disaster cleanup crew or an emergency plumber. At a minimum, Linde recommends covering these areas in your crisis plan:
- Ensuring the counselors are licensed and that you’ll have access to professionals with the appropriate specialty (e.g. crisis or grief counseling)
- The timeframe in which the services must be provided
- Where the services will be provided
- Confidentiality and record-keeping practices
- How many hours of services are available to each employee
- How the counselors will be paid
Consider what counseling services you might have to provide for guests who don’t work in your building.
An EAP can help with employees, but if you’re overseeing a large events center, the odds are that you’re going to have guests on-site whenever you find yourself turning to your crisis plans. Provisions for guests should be reflected in your plans so that you’re prepared when the time comes.
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