Scenario: It’s day three of your deployment, you have been away from family, friends, home and everything familiar. Cell phone service is spotty and when you do try the phone rings with another victim needing assistance. The devastation is heart wrenching and you are reminded each time you take a call from a citizen who has lost everything or can’t locate a family member.
Mental preparation goes further than dealing with the disaster you have responded to. Taking care of other’s is your mission; however, taking care of yourself is paramount! Let’s get back to the basics:
The telecommunicator’s possible inability to communicate with family members in a disaster area may be a frequent occurrence. As such, telecommunicators must be sure they not only recognize limitations of regular communication, but their family members understand the possible limitations in communication. Telecommunicators should talk with their family and explain how the destruction in a disaster area and shift work may impact their ability to call home. Additionally, telecommunicators who have been deployed in a disaster area may not be able to return home immediately and may need to wait for transportation or until the end of the deployment cycle. When the opportunity exists, call loved ones, friends, and family. Their voice, knowledge of events at home (even seemingly insignificant events, such as school activities), and an outlet for your emotions may relieve stress.
Research into the coping strategies used by and found effective by emergency responders has generally focused on law enforcement and fire department responders. Compounding the difficulty in researching coping skills employed by all emergency responders is the very nature of these responders. They have been trained and have typically put their needs behind the needs of the citizens they are sworn to protect and help. Nevertheless, research has found the following strategies have been effective in relieving and preventing stress.
- Sleep/work schedule – Maintain these schedules as best as possible. If you are “off” take advantage of the time to rest, exercise, or to otherwise relax.
- Nutrition – Eat at regular intervals and eat healthy to the extent possible.
- Exercise – Walk or engage in some other form of exercise to “de-stress”.
- Avoid Alcohol/Drugs – These not only jeopardize job performance, but also increase stress after intoxication.
- Humor – The use of humor is often a natural expression to relieve stress and to make the best of a situation. However, there may be times when humor is inappropriate.
- Breaks – Take adequate breaks with your team and other telecommunicators. The diversion from work and the opportunity to talk with others in a similar situation will help relieve stress.
- Think About Other Things – Take a mental vacation and think about non-work related and pleasant events.
- Take a Deep Breath and Relax – Take a deep breath and remember you have the strength, training, and experience to handle the situation. If you act calm, you will start to feel calm.
- Remember, It Could Be Worse – Regardless of how bad things may seem, it could always be worse. As a result, this perception may enable you to reduce the stress and to appreciate the situation better.
- Talk to Others – Talk to others in your team or from the PSAP. Discuss what has occurred, what is occurring, and what will happen.
- Out of Place, Out of Mind – Some people deal with stress better alone and by withdrawing from others, while others may need to talk to someone. Others can simply ignore the current situation and dedicate their efforts to helping more.