Disaster and Terrorism Survival Planning: EA Professionals with Military Experience or Specialized Survival Training Can Impart the Knowledge and Skills Necessary to Help Work Organizations Plan for and Survive Large-Scale Disasters and Terrorist Incidents

By Hurst, Michael R. | The Journal of Employee Assistance, October 2006 | Go to article overview

Disaster and Terrorism Survival Planning: EA Professionals with Military Experience or Specialized Survival Training Can Impart the Knowledge and Skills Necessary to Help Work Organizations Plan for and Survive Large-Scale Disasters and Terrorist Incidents


Hurst, Michael R., The Journal of Employee Assistance


Knowledge of, and training related to, disaster and terrorism survival skills and survival planning are critical for individuals and organizations in the post-September 2001 work/life environment. Employee assistance professionals need to become expert at training and consulting with individuals and organizations on the critical skills necessary to survive and recover from a disaster or terrorist attack and build productive lives and workplaces in the aftermath.

Recent disasters and terrorist incidents such as the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, the World Trade Center bombing in 1993 and terrorist attack in 2001, and Hurricane Katrina showed that individual survival skill ability and initiative were problematic. The magnitude of these disasters and terrorist incidents was such that even people who were not directly victimized were devastated by them, resulting in shock, stress, personal loss, and physical and mental injury (Norris et al. 2002).

Federal, state, and local governments have developed numerous reference guides, manuals, handbooks, fact sheets, and wallet guides on how to prepare for a disaster or terrorist incident (see, for example, Federal Emergency Management Agency 2006). Many work organizations and individuals have used these materials to help develop plans so they are prepared for the unexpected.

Ultimately, the effectiveness and efficiency of these plans depends on the expertise and experience that the organizations and individuals bring to the planning process. The reality is that even the best crisis preparedness plan is only a blueprint, and the very nature of disasters and terrorist incidents virtually guarantees that unexpected and challenging situations will arise. The negative effects of these unexpected situations can be reduced by providing employers and workers with "real world" survival skills and survival planning that will enhance their performance during disasters or terrorist attacks.

TEACHING SURVIVAL SKILLS AND PLANNING

Teaching survival skills and survival planning to work organizations complements the EAP Critical Incident Continuum (Jacobson et al. 2005). EA professionals who have lived in rural/ austere environments, undergone military training, and/or participated in civilian backpacking/camping activities are best able to provide workers and work organizations with the know-how to survive large-scale emergencies and develop "real world" disaster and terrorism preparedness plans.

Training in survival skills and survival planning must include all employees, from line workers to organizational leaders. The primary components of survival skills and survival planning training can be broken down into five major topics. These topics are as follows:

* Learning the psychology of survival;

* Understanding the "survival" blue-print;

* Surviving different environments;

* Creating a survival plan and kits; and

* Simulating a survival situation.

Learning the psychology of survival. The first step in learning the psychology of survival is to understand how the concept is applied in the real world--that is, recognizing how a disaster or terrorist incident affects an individual or organization. History and research have shown that individuals who receive survival training and apply that training are able to control and maintain their "wits" in actual survival situations and are the most successful at coping with extreme hardship.

A survival situation affects an individual physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. The boredom, cold, fatigue, heat, hunger, loneliness, pain, and thirst that a person encounters will affect his or her ability to function.

EA professionals need to understand these effects and also (re)acquaint themselves with the "fight, flight, or freeze" inclinations of human beings when facing a stressful situation. Excellent books to read and study on this topic are Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl and Five Years to Freedom: The True Story of a Vietnam POW by James N.

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Disaster and Terrorism Survival Planning: EA Professionals with Military Experience or Specialized Survival Training Can Impart the Knowledge and Skills Necessary to Help Work Organizations Plan for and Survive Large-Scale Disasters and Terrorist Incidents
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