Stress and CISM in NEOC
Stress in the Control Room cannot be equated to stress that exists in a normal ‘office’ environment. As the 1st First Responders Emergency Call Takers (ECT) and Dispatchers deal with more critical incidents in a few shifts then most office workers would deal within an entire year or more. The ECT is often propelled into what might be someone’s very worst day and time in their lives. The ECT gets a beep in their ear and without warning the first thing they hear might be the shrieks and screams of a distraught parent of a very sick child or worse the dull ache of deafening silence when the worst has already happened. Suicidal callers, child deaths, child suicides, multiple vehicle RTCs are among some of the examples of traumatic chaotic calls where the ECT is the person who has to calm the situation enough to get the crucial dispatch and responder information.
Call takers have to be immediate decision-makers to guarantee that accurate information is passed to the Dispatcher, all while trying to calm a hysterical caller. In addition, whilst call takers deal with and progress the call to Dispatch, they have to immediately deal with the next call which could also be equally traumatic. While the Dispatcher or Supervisor are not involved directly with emergency callers, they too are involved in the often chaotic nature of calls where information is sparse due to lack of coverage, the caller not knowing where they physically are, poor language difficulties or the general lack of communicative ability of somebody in shock. On top of this Control staff are also dealing with extremely abusive callers and those who frequently abuse the system all while processing a significantly high volume of emergency calls.
In the past, there was a belief that CISM was only necessary for Operational staff. There is now considerable evidence and research available that demonstrates the effect of CIS on Control Staff due to extremely high volume of calls and over exposure to the more difficult call type incidents.
As part of the CISM development programme within the NAS, the development of CISM within NEOC is also an essential part of that process. NEOC now have a designated Control Manager with responsibility for CISM, a NEOC CISM Coordinator, two Deputy Coordinators and a team of trained Peer Support Workers. There are plans in place for future training of Peer Support Workers as well as refresher training for existing Peer Support Workers.
All newly trained ECTs as part of their training are given the CISM booklet, participate in Stress Awareness Training and complete an e-learning module in CISM. When Call Takers are being trained for Dispatch roles they are given additional CISM Training. A NEOC CISM Activation training module has already been developed and will be rolled out to all Dispatchers, Supervisors and Control Managers in the very near future. While it is understood that the effects of exposure to CIS are normal it is when this exposure is left un-dealt with and not acknowledged in the long term that stress can become destructive to the wellbeing of our Control staff. While the CISM process to date has been very encouraging and positive it is an ongoing, constant process. Training and development of staff is crucial to its success: – in the future the plan is to have Peer Support trained staff on all teams, Peer Support trained Supervisors and that all NEOC Dispatch and Supervisors will be trained in CISM Activation.