Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) is an intervention protocol developed specifically for dealing with traumatic events. It is a formal, highly structured and profession-ally recognized process for helping those involved in a critical incident to share their experiences, vent emotions, learn about stress reactions and symptoms and given referral to the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) for further help if required.
Jordan Dam and Reservoir Supervisory Natural Resource Specialist Ranger Shannon Maness is trained in CISM. It has been established for a long time, but the formal program is just getting started in the South Atlantic Division (SAD). He used CISM, although not through the formal training, when he was a teenager working in a local Fire/Rescue unit in North Carolina.
“We had a vehicle fatality that killed three members of a family and that the first responders knew personally, and it began to effect all of us in dealing with the emotions that we were going through,” he recalled. “We sat down as a unit and discussed what each other was feeling in a group discussion and the process helped us to know that others were experiencing grief, anger, blaming themselves for not doing enough, etc. This process of understanding that it is a normal reaction helps begin the healing process and converting the constant flashes into memories and being able to cope with the experience.”
Maness said CISM is a process of starting the healing and dealing appropriately with the emotions soon after an event, so that it does not progress to something worse, such as Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The important thing to remember, he said, is that each person is different, so the process can be different for each one.
“We all have ways that we tend to deal with stress in our life,” Maness said. “Some people choose to not deal with it; they push it down and continue with the mission. Some choose to talk with family members or friends or do an activity that gets their heart rate up such as running, boxing or sports. Some choose to do nothing, or do not know what to do to help with stress so they tend to shut down and not do anything. We all have our stressors and sometimes events can overwhelm us so that we do not even know what to do. That is when CISM can help work through the process of dealing with traumatic events and allowing us to process them effectively for the individual. Just knowing there is help, and it is OK to ask for help, it is half the battle.”
Maness said the CISM team for USACE is a Headquarters program that is shared through the local projects. Headquarters pays for travel, and the local project office covers labor for their peer supporter to a response associated with CISM incidents. The USACE CISM Team conducted the initial training for new team members in Norman, Okla., from October 22-26, 2018.
“We were trained specifically for USACE protocols and how our team works, but our basic training was conducted under the certification of the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation, Inc. (ICISF) standards,” he said. “This is the Gold Standard so to speak for training in CISM. The two courses are Group Crisis Intervention and Assisting Individuals in Crisis. Both are taught in a classroom setting with hands-on training being observed by already trained CISM supporters and the instructor. In USACE, it is not just about having some training, it is also about the people who are on the team. One of the requirements to join the team are caring and supportive people who like to help others, and are good at it.”