Critical Incident Debriefing

In the aftermath of any critical incident, psychological reactions are quite common and are fairly predictable. Critical Incident Stress Debriefing (CISD) can be a valuable tool following a traumatic event.

A critical incident as a sudden death in the line of duty, serious injury from a shooting, a physical or psychological threat to the safety or wellbeing of an individual or community regardless of the type of incident. This also includes the death of a co worker, or any event that significant alters how the group works together and responds to each other. Moreover, a critical incident can involve any situation or events faced by emergency or public safety personnel (responders) or individual that causes a distressing, dramatic or profound change or disruption in their physical (physiological) or psychological functioning. There are oftentimes, unusually strong emotions attached to the event which have the potential to interfere with that persons ability to function either at the crisis scene or away from it. Caught off guard and “numb” from the impact of a critical incident, individuals and communities are often ill-equipped to handle the chaos of such a catastrophic situation.

Clinically, traumatic events and their impact on individuals are fairly predictable. When a person has been “exposed” to a critical incident, either briefly or long-term, this exposure can have a considerable impact on their global functioning. In time, researchers began to find evidence that emergency workers, public safety personnel and responders to crisis situations, rape victims, abused spouses and children, stalking victims, media personnel as well as individuals who were exposed to a variety of critical incidents (e.g., fire, earthquake, floods, industrial disaster, workplace violence) also developed short-term crisis reactions.

CISM, or Critical Incident Stress Management, is a specific technique designed to assist others in dealing with the physical or psychological symptoms that are generally associated with trauma exposure. Debriefing allows those involved with the incident to process the event and reflect on its impact. Ideally, debriefing can be conducted on or near the site of the event.  Defusing, another component of CISD, allows for the ventilation of emotions and thoughts associated with the crisis event. Debriefing and defusing should be provided as soon as possible but typically no longer than the first 24 to 72 hours after the initial impact of the critical event.

Helping individuals and companies respond to their incident in a supportive manner can increase workplace production and allow their workers to go back to work in a healthy, safe, productive manner.