Dealing With the Human Side of Crisis

7 actions you can take now in response to this national tragedy

America has encountered the unthinkable. Terrorist acts of thismagnitude are having a rippling effect and have already devastatedcountless families, businesses and communities across the world.Though life must go on, it is imperative to address the human sideof crisis before we can effectively regain control and make orderout of chaos.

Bruce T. Blythe, CEO of Crisis Management International Inc., a worldwidecompany dedicated to handling the human side of crisis, is engagedin the recovery and response to this horrid course of events. CMIresponds to corporate critical incidents in all 50 states throughits network of experienced crisis professionals. Presently, CMI isassisting multiple companies throughout the nation in response tothe recent terrorism attack on America, providing crisis managementconsultations and on-site assistance for employees and affectedfamilies. Says Blythe: "More than anything, people need toregain a sense of control. Their reality has been shattered, andtheir personal safety has been threatened. We need to offerreassurance that the world and our surroundings can once again besafe and manageable."

Whether you are responding to this tragedy or preparing yourselfto respond effectively during any crisis, the following steps willhopefully help you regain some semblance of order in yourcompany:

  1. People matter most, and first and foremost, you have to knowwhere your people are and whether they are safe. Once managementhas accounted for all personnel and contacted their loved ones,they should gather the company together at any conference-typefacility as soon as possible to discuss the impact.
  2. Once gathered, the company should provide all known informationto all personnel. They should let people know what to expect in thenear future, including traumatic stress reactions they mayexperience and what the company will offer the impacted individualsand their families. It is also important for the company to ask theemployees if they have any questions and be prepared to dispel anyrumors that may have circulated.
  3. Identify all "at-risk" individuals--people who areexperiencing severe reactions related to the incident. Many at-riskindividuals will be easy to identify, such as victims, witnessesand close friends or relatives of the victims. However, there aremany other people who still may be at risk, such as individuals whohave recently lost a loved one or were involved in another highlytraumatic incident. Although these individuals were not directlyrelated to the terrorist attacks, they still may suffer fromtraumatic stress. People needing help may not always come toyou--you must seek them out and provide whatever assistance youcan.
  4. Provide professional psychological assistance to all in need.Assistance can be provided through groups and on-site individualassistance by qualified mental-health professionals who specializein dealing with traumatic stress.
  5. Maintain communications to and from all employees. It isimperative to keep everyone up-to-date with the latest information.One effective way in which to keep lines of communication open isto distribute daily bulletins or other company announcements.Especially if your company was close to the epicenter of thishorrific event, let everyone know the status of the safety of allpersonnel.
  6. Assess the escalation potential. The leaders of the companyshould look at exactly what has happened and brainstorm what elsecould possibly happen as a result of the incident. Some questionsto consider: Does the company have any ongoing foreseeable risk,including legal and medical implications? Keep in mind that even ifthe risk is only a perceived risk by personnel, it still must beproperly addressed. What type of interruptions in production shouldthe company expect? What can the company do to mitigate theaftereffects, such as absenteeism and low morale?
  7. Company leaders should start to plan for return-to-work issues.Keep in mind, it is crucial to deal with the needs of the workersbefore asking the employees to return to work as normal. If youignore your people's needs, you will encounter outrage andsignificant morale problems.

Overall, a company should be prepared, informed and responsive.America could not be fully prepared for what happened on September11. From here, we can only respond effectively, and it is yourresponsibility to help individuals and their families begin thelong recovery process.

Grace Burley is a crisis communications expert inAtlanta.

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