Critical Incidents Point to Whole Person Security

As aid groups and other international organizations operate in more high-risk environments, critical incidents like violent attacks and natural disasters have taken on added importance in terms of duty of care.  Many organizations have invested significant resources in physical security.

Yet there’s another kind of security that has yet to obtain the same level of attention and investment.  That’s psychological security.

Critical incidents can have significant and lingering psychological impact.  And not only to those directly affected.   Family, friends, colleagues and an entire organization can experience lasting fear and insecurity.  These in turn can undermine the performance of individuals and organizations.

Psychological security addresses this dynamic.  It recognizes that critical incidents affect the whole person, and that the needs of the whole person must be addressed. When proper psychological, social and organizational support are provided after a critical incident, negative consequences can be reduced or even prevented.

What are the elements of an effective critical incident response?

Before a crisis occurs, an organization needs to ensure that a crisis management team is designated; a critical incident protocol is in place and integrated into security plans with key staff trained on it; and resources for post-incident support are identified.

Paramount to an effective response is determining all groups which are affected by the incident, or the circle of impact.  This includes family, colleagues, even the entire organization and colleagues in partner organizations. The goal in responding is to leave no one out.  This also includes members of the crisis management team.  Witnessing or hearing about the consequences of the event can result in the same distress and symptoms as the victims.

Organizations should also consider training some staff in Psychological First Aid (PFA).  The goal of PFA is to reduce initial distress and promote an environment of safety, calm, and connectedness, and hope.  While often provided by clinicians, PFA can also be offered by any caring and supportive individual who has early contact with survivors of critical incidents.

Providing basic social support and caring assistance to those impacted in the days and weeks after the incident will help reduce the impact of a critical incident.  It is important to also offer professional psychological care.  For this reason, a number of international organizations partner with groups with the experience and knowledge to help navigate and quickly access appropriate resources.

With this support, most will recover over time.  Some staff, however, may not show reaction until weeks later.  For this reason, it is important to continue to monitor those involved in the incident.  If symptoms are not recognized, and appropriate support provided, issues of morale, health and productivity could arise.

Heightened risk is the “new normal” around the world.  Duty of care demands increased investment in risk management, including tending to psychological security.   Addressing the safety of the whole person is the moral and legal obligation of organizations.

Kathleen Gaines

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