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Disaster preparedness: a multifaceted EAP approach.

Since their introduction to the employee assistance field, critical incident stress response and critical incident stress management (CISM) services have been accepted as being within the continuum of EAP service delivery. Although many EA practitioners can recall their early experiences in providing critical incident stress debriefings (CISDs) following traumatic incidents in the workplace, that service alone falls far short of meeting current best practice standards and providing the wide range of EA services needed to respond to disaster preparedness challenges. Today, most EAPs have integrated (to varying degrees) CIS protocols and services and developed the corresponding skills to respond to the threats and disasters that plague today's workplace.


Since the early days of the EA profession, the skill "toolkit" of a good EA practitioner has included strong crisis, emergency, and grief response capabilities. As the CISM methodology and protocols developed in the emergency services field became more closely aligned with the comprehensive practice of the EAP Core Technology, many of us recognized that CISM services offered an opportunity to broaden an essential EA skill--from the narrow focus of responding to the individual to the broader focus of responding to affected work groups and the larger organization--in times of extensive workplace trauma or large-scale events in the community. The experiences of many organizations in the aftermath of the September 2001 terrorist attacks have resonated with employers, labor organizations, and employees, resulting in both an expectation of and demand for EA programs and practitioners to help companies and their workforces prepare for and respond to the threat and occurrence of such events.

Knowing when to debrief and when to support. The essential best practice for any EA practitioner is to understand the continuum of the CISM service delivery spectrum. Training is available from the pioneers in the development of critical incident response services, and such training and related certifications should be the foundation on which EA practitioners build their disaster preparedness response capabilities. Best practice demands that EA practitioners be able to (1) understand the varied response protocols available, (2) identify the needs of the work organization and workforce during and after a disaster, (3) match the most viable protocol to the specific work group, and (4) appropriately and competently deliver the service and follow up with vital ongoing support. These tasks demand a thorough understanding and practical application of skills that can only be developed by getting out from behind a textbook and into the workplace.

Helping the organization prepare. As the worldwide business community continues to meet the challenges of preparing for and responding to threats and acts of terrorism, assaults in the workplace, and natural disasters, the opportunities for EA programs and practitioners are numerous. Best practice necessitates that EAPs and EA professionals be at the table when work organizations plan for such contingencies. Whether engaged in "business continuity planning," "continuity of operations development," or other similar processes, employers and their workforces are best served when the EAP is involved in these planning activities.

For example, something as simple as communicating to the workforce during and after a disaster should not be left to the organization's communications or public relations department alone. An EAP often has its finger on the pulse of the workforce during a disaster and can be a prime conduit to the organization's leaders in guiding their communications. The time for an EAP to position itself to play this critical role is during disaster preparedness planning and developmental discussions. The EAP can even begin "inoculating" leaders, managers, and union representatives against the organizational missteps that often occur during disasters, when the emotional realities and considerations of the workforce often take a back seat to the logistical needs of the organization.

Debriefing the debriefer. Lastly, disaster preparedness in the workplace demands that the EAP be prepared as well. Best practice requires that the EAP have its own disaster response and business continuity plan in place. Whether relocating to an alternate operational site, backing up critical records and operational systems, or supplementing existing staff during times of heightened disaster response demands, each EAP must develop, test, and evaluate its capabilities along these dimensions. Every EAP also should have a plan to debrief its own debriefers--in short, to take care of its EA professionals.


As always, we want to hear about your best practices. What are you doing as part of your disaster preparedness activities? Contact us at or and let us know how you and your EAP are responding to this issue.

Bern Beidel and Kris Brennan are co-chairs of the Standards Subcommittee of the EAPA Professional Practices Committee.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Best Practices; Employee Assistance Program
Author:Brennan, Kristine N.
Publication:The Journal of Employee Assistance
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2005
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