Haiti earthquake response staff traumatised by experience

Staff sent out to help respond to the Haiti earthquake are “having difficulty sleeping” after being traumatised by the experience, according to a development charity.

Charity Christian Aid told Personnel Today it was crucial for employers to ensure staff returning from tragic situations and those permanently based abroad received support to help them cope with the horrors of the disaster,believed to have claimed the lives of up to 200,000 people.

Kiruja Micheni, corporate security manager, said: “It is reasonable to expect colleagues in Haiti, including those visiting, to be traumatised after witnessing and experiencing the horrors we have been seeing on TV first hand. Indeed, some agencies have already reported their staff having difficulty getting to sleep.”

He added: “Employers therefore need to consider the need for psychosocial support for their staff.”

Lisa Bedelian, emergencies HR manager at charity Save the Children, said they had robust welfare procedures in place for staff returning from tragic situations. These include internal and external support services for employees who might not want to talk to anyone at the charity.

“They can phone up a confidential counselling line or arrange to have face-to-face sessions,” Bedelian said. “All our staff have to be medically fit before they travel. We always ask them to do a health check on arrival back from a country.”

So far, staff from nine UK fire brigades have flown out to the disaster zone to help with search and rescue operations.

Pete Crook, group manager in charge of civil resilience at Hampshire Fire and Rescue, which is leading the co-ordination of the UK firefighter response, said there were already systems in place to help fire personnel deal with the stress and trauma of such events because of the nature of their daily jobs.

“Those systems are well known. It’s the same system as if they attended a fatal fire. There are counselling services at each brigade. They may vary, but they all have systems to [deal] with that.”

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