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Coming to grips with post-disaster recovery

In the wake of devastation created by a particularly violent tornado season, communities from Missouri and Alabama to Iowa and Massachusetts and are coping with the aftermath and recovery from destruction. It's well known that people experience various stages of grief when coping with loss. What is less well understood are the stages that a community goes through in coping with and recovering from massive trauma. This two-page PDF discusses the phases of community adjustment after a disaster, offering a useful model for understanding the recovery process. Much like the grief process, the various stages can and do overlap:

Heroic Phase - occurs during and immediately after the event - attention is focused on survival.

Honeymoon Phase - occurring 1 to 6 months after the disaster. A sense of shared experience and purpose; influx of support services and anticipation of assistance.

Disillusionment Phase - from 2 months to 2 or more years. Anger and resentment at public relief agencies; Erosion of sense of shared community.

Reconstruction - several years following a disaster. People assume responsibility for their own problem-solving; gradual reaffirmation of belief in community.

Beyond the community level, there is an issue that is relevant to many of us in our every day work: coping with disasters on the organizational level, which presents another set of challenges. London-based psychotherapist Pauline Rennie Peyton writes about the effects of trauma at the workplace, noting that, "there is often little support for managers in their capacity as managers who, in the aftermath of trauma, are trying to get their workforce back to 'normal.'"

Businesses located in disaster zones are faced with the dual task of repairing and restoring their own functionality while coping with the losses and recovery of their workers. People all cope with trauma and grief differently and there is no pattern or timetable to the grief and recovery process. An organizational drive to expeditious business restoration may be perceived as hard or uncaring by some workers. Peyton says that managers who talk about what they see going on with their team are less likely to be shut out and treated as an uncaring alien. But therein lies the dilemma: many managers aren't trained in dealing with trauma, and may well be experiencing their own personal reactions. Peyton speaks of this:

I can never stress strongly enough that those people with either “Manager” or “Human Resources” as part of their title are not immune from needing outside help. If you yourself are experiencing not feeling “normal” or are aware of a colleague who is experiencing the effects of trauma, please seek help sooner rather than later. People in these responsible roles often take on the problems of their teams without the supervision and training that they need — yet they fail to notice when they themselves need help.

One way to help employees and managers alike is to bring in professional support, resources that are trained and experienced in dealing with crisis management and trauma. Often, this can be an Employee Assistance Program, or other community resources. Pre-planning for organizational emergency response should include identifying such support resources in advance as part of the crisis response team.

June is PTSD Awareness Month. We've compiled some post trauma recovery resources for managers and supervisors:

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