Updated: Jan 31
Emergency managers are often faced with situations that are beyond their control. Managing disasters can take its toll on emergency managers and the people around them. However, there are some simple things that emergency managers can do to ensure they're not just surviving—but thriving—in the wake of a disaster.
During a gathering of a few thousand Emergency Managers, I had the opportunity to interview many of them, learning what these sorely unsung heroes' world can be like both day-to-day and when disasters strike. These are some of the lessons learned.
Emergency managers can count on staff support, but not always.
Emergency managers often assume that staff has the endurance to support their communities during a disaster. In fact, most emergency managers are surprised when they find out that many of their employees are not well-rested and lack energy. This is because these employees have families with whom they may struggle to keep in touch during an emergency situation. Staff may also be required to stay at work longer than normal hours as they respond to requests for assistance or recovery efforts. When employees don’t get enough sleep, it is difficult to work effectively because of fatigue and lack of motivation.
As an emergency manager, there are several things you can do to help your staff endure long hours on the job:
Make sure your team has healthy food options available for meals throughout the day so that everyone can maintain their energy levels
Encourage employees who need rest time away from their desks by providing quiet rooms with couches where people can nap or relax during breaks.
Trust them and allow them to ensure their families are taken care of.
Emergency managers may be faced with unforeseen challenges in the wake of disasters.
In the wake of disasters, emergency managers may face unforeseen challenges that directly impact their ability to assist in crisis response. For instance:
Communication with first responders and other emergency personnel may not work or only intermittently, making it difficult for those on the ground to coordinate efforts.
Restaurants and other food services may be unavailable or severely delayed because they are in an evacuation zone or have been damaged by the disaster. This means that survivors will have limited access to nutrition—which can lead to fatigue and hunger pangs that exacerbate stress levels as people struggle to cope.
Worrying about getting home or finding one's family or friends preoccupies the mind and takes up energy when you need every ounce of focus for your job. During such times, gas stations can run out of fuel as panicked drivers try to fill up their tanks before fleeing their homes; power lines are downed by falling trees or flying debris; water supplies are contaminated by broken pipes, sewage spills, and flooding; telecommunication systems are disrupted... The list goes on!
The stress of emergency management can take its toll on staff members.
During a crisis, the stress of emergency management can take its toll on staff members. When individuals are confronted with such serious situations and must make decisions quickly and efficiently, they may lose concentration. This is especially true when the duration of an emergency event is longer than usual or if it has been ongoing for several hours. The quality of decision-making goes down, leading to poor outcomes for personnel tasked with making important decisions during an incident or disaster.
Individuals deal with stress by overeating or not getting enough nutrition and often do not self-regulate well when faced with pressure from work-related issues such as family life balance problems etc..
Risk management is important, but it's not enough.
In the event of a disaster, senior staff needs to support and fund the people and supplies needed to mitigate the disaster. Teams must be trained in safety procedures, emergency response tactics, communication skills, and other important information that will help them prepare for and manage any situation as safely as possible. When disasters occur on short notice or when there is little time for preparation before impact on an area (as was seen with Hurricane Harvey), whole teams may not have access to these resources.
Because it only takes one error for things like property damage or injuries/deaths to happen during an emergency response situation, entire teams must have access to training. By educating everyone on how to handle themselves in dangerous situations, such as firefighting or medical emergencies during natural disasters like hurricanes or tornadoes where there is no time available in advance, proper training can help prevent these kinds of things from occurring. This way, they can prepare themselves appropriately in advance rather than having only seconds between discovering something bad has happened and getting help.
Emergency managers must ensure that staff can cope with the emotional impact of their jobs.
There is much pressure on those who work in emergency management, so managers must know that their staff is prepared for the emotional toll that comes with their jobs.
The American Psychiatric Association (APA) estimates that one-in-four people will experience PTSD following a trauma like an earthquake or flood at some point in their lives. This can range from flashbacks and nightmares to avoiding things that remind them of what happened.
Emergency managers and teams need to know the resources available if they need support during or after a tragedy because there’s a high risk of developing symptoms later down the line.
Emergency managers can help their teams avoid burnout by ensuring they have an outlet for their emotions and a way to de-stress after work.
There is a growing recognition that the concept of anti-fragility should be brought into emergency managers’ thinking. The new anti-fragility concept states that organizations must have built-in resiliency and redundancy to withstand a crisis. This means they will recover from the crisis and come back even stronger than before.
Emergency managers can help their teams avoid burnout by ensuring they have an outlet for their emotions and a way to de-stress after work. It may be possible for some employees to work through these emotions without outside assistance, but others may need additional support from an employee assistance program (EAP). Many EAPs provide counseling services and referrals for other types of professional care when needed.
The best way for emergency managers to help their teams keep going is by showing them that they value them and understand how difficult their work can be.
If you want your emergency managers to stay motivated and engaged, the best way is by showing them that you value them and understand how difficult their work can be.
People who are already wired to want to help save the general population from harm need support just like anyone else, but there's a lot more at stake for them because of the gravity of their mission. They're often working with less sleep than they'd like, worrying about their families and friends in disaster zones—and if they have children themselves, it's even harder because they know firsthand what it feels like being away from them during an emergency.
A safe place to work where they can access food and water when needed is also critical. It might seem common sense, but access to these basic needs helps reduce stress by giving people less reason to worry about self-concerns (including hunger). This will allow them to focus on what matters most: helping others get through the crisis safely while keeping infrastructure intact as best possible until help arrives or resources come through from other sources.
When disaster strikes, everyone needs support to keep going!
We often underestimate how much work it takes to manage an emergency. It affects everyone, and we need each other's support!
When disaster strikes, everyone needs support to keep going! We can't do this alone. When you're at your breaking point, ask for help from your team or a buddy system. There is no shame in asking for help when you need it the most!
Just think about it. There are thousands of dedicated men and women who prepare and prepare again to help others, hoping no disaster will ever happen. They show up daily, built to be of service and ready if disasters come their way. Call your local county Emergency Manager and get to know them and their team and how you might help in your community. You will be very pleasantly surprised.
We hope the information we've shared with you today will help you better understand emergency managers' challenges and how they can support their teams through challenging times. If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to contact us!