Addressing the Need for Critical Incident Stress Management. (News)

Occupational Hazards, October 2002 | Go to article overview

Addressing the Need for Critical Incident Stress Management. (News)


With the continued threat of terrorism, emergency responders are finding they must not only face physical danger, but emotional trauma as well.

The Oklahoma City Fire Department (OCFD) released a special report on the psychological lessons learned from the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. The report focuses on the impact of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the lives of firefighters and their families. "On Scene Stress" can help other emergency responders and emergency response agencies prepare for future catastrophic incidents.

PTSD is defined by three sets of symptoms, says professor Carol S. North, M.D., M.P.E., Psychiatry Department, Washington University School of Medicine: intrusive memories, such as nightmares of the event and flashbacks; avoidance and numbing, such as inability to face reminders of the event and feeling isolated, distant and numb; and hyperalertness, which includes sleeplessness and feeling keyed up, jumpy and easily startled. PTSD is diagnosed when enough symptoms in all three groups persist for a month or longer, says North.

Researchers from Washington University in St. Louis and the University of Oklahoma studied the effects of Oklahoma City bombing rescue and recovery work on rescuers mental health. Of the nearly 1,000 members of the Oklahoma City and Tinker Air Force Base fire departments who participated in the rescue and recovery effort, 175 men and five women chose to take part in the study.

The report makes the following suggestions to help rescuers cope emotionally with disasters like the Oklahoma City bombing and the terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center:

* Create a critical incident stress management (CISM) team. …

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