How would non-first responders handle the crisis psychologically, both short and long term, when it can be difficult enough to process even for those that have been trained to respond? We saw this play out on the streets of Manhattan in 2009, when the United States Air Force decided to update file photographs of Air Force One flying over New York City, including the Statute of Liberty. The photoshoot caused wide spread panic among New Yorkers, including some public safety workers, who thought it was another 9/11-style terrorist attack. It caused people to evacuate buildings and run for their lives.
When I was asked to create a Crisis Management and Communications course for an international airport, I included a section on psychological preparedness. In that section, we discussed how major disruptive incidents can have psychological effects beyond the first responders and how services might need to be provided organization-wide. This is especially true in those incidents that result in loss of life.
Understanding that an airport is an industrial environment and aviation itself is a lucrative target for terrorists and others who want to do harm to draw attention to their cause, we must realize that the key to psychological resilience and recovery begins with preparing yourself mentally in advance to avoid long-term emotional effects. When a major event occurs, the need for responders goes well beyond the first round of public safety personnel; even an accountant may be required to respond and provide assistance as well.
Our Psychological Preparedness Course was designed to help employees at all levels understand the need for psychological resiliency. We discuss the processes of successfully adapting in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress. The course provides employees with tools and coping skills to bounce back from difficult experiences, as well as information on how to be aware of their own culture, while understanding that other cultures may handle stress differently.
The course also concentrates on how to recognize the signs and symptoms of incident-related stress that may be mild, moderate, severe, or debilitating or may manifest itself well after the event has been secured, sometimes in the form of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). These symptoms may include: