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Responding to disasters is both rewarding and challenging work. Sources of stress for emergency responders may include witnessing human suffering, risk of personal harm, intense workloads, life-and-death decisions, and separation from family. Stress prevention and management is critical for responders to stay well and to continue to help in the situation. There are important steps responders should take before, during, and after an event.
Preparing for a Response:
Preparing for a Response:
- Try to learn as much as possible about what your role would be in a response.
- If you will be traveling or working long hours during a response, explain this to loved ones who may want to contact you. Come up with ways you may be able to communicate with them. Keep their expectations realistic and take the pressure off yourself.
- Talk to your supervisor and establish a plan for who will fill any urgent or ongoing work duties unrelated to the disaster while you are engaged in the response.
During a Response: Understand and Identify Burnout and Secondary Traumatic Stress
Responders experience stress during a crisis. When stress builds up it can cause—
- Burnout (feelings of extreme exhaustion and being overwhelmed)
- Secondary traumatic stress (stress reactions and symptoms resulting from exposure to another individual’s traumatic experiences rather than from direct exposure to a traumatic event)
Coping techniques like taking breaks, eating healthy foods, exercising, and using the buddy system can help prevent and reduce burnout and secondary traumatic stress. Recognize the signs of both conditions in yourself and other responders to be sure those who need a break or need help can address these needs.
Returning Home from a Response (adapted from SAMHSA’s Tips for Families of Returning Disaster Responders)
Following disaster assignments away from home, reunions are eagerly anticipated by all. Reconnecting with family can sometimes be harder than we expect, but it can be effectively managed. Remember that homecoming is more than an event; it is a process of reconnection. Consider reading SAMHSA’s (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) tips for families (also available in Spanish) on adjusting to life at home for more information on how you and your loved ones can make your return home easier.