For the past eight years, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been providing emotional first aid to employees through the Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) program. CISM began in the Southwestern Division after employees started having adverse reactions following several instances of people drowning at local Corps’ projects.
Albuquerque District employees Beverly Noel, Valerie Mavis and Kelly Allen are peer supporters in the CISM program for South Pacific Division. Noel, who is the District’s chief of Technical Support Section, Lake Operations Branch, describes the response team as a “band-aid,” since they “help those who have experienced trauma to recognize their feelings and refocus in order to get back on their feet.” She said talking about trauma with peer supporters can reduce the amount of employee anxiety and sick leave.
“CISM helps Corps employees who have experienced an event such as a line of duty death or injury, employee suicide, natural disaster or other trauma,” she continued.
Through stress education, confidential on-scene group or one-on-one interventions, post-visit follow-ups and referrals to the Employee Assistance Program, the CISM team provides emotional first aid that is beneficial to those experiencing stress brought on by trauma.
People requesting support from CISM are everywhere, and the three members from Albuquerque, at times, travel outside the region to deliver aid. Mavis, a Natural Resources Specialist and recent transplant to the District from San Francisco District, was chosen to deploy for an incident in Nashville, Tenn., in late July.
Peer supporters must be willing to deploy at a moment’s notice, endure emotionally and physically draining situations and be good listeners. However, the team members in Albuquerque all agree the work is rewarding and satisfying and allows them to support others in a meaningful way.
Peer Supporter Tips
• Listen carefully
• Spend time with the traumatized person
• Offer assistance and a listening ear, even if the person has not asked for help
• Reassure the person they are safe
• Help with everyday tasks like cleaning, cooking and caring for the person’s family
• Give the person private time
• Don’t take their anger/feelings personally