Experiment 55.1: Collaboration and interaction of first responders with the general public

Experiment 55.1: Collaboration and interaction of first responders with the general public

People at an incident location do not passively wait for help to come. They tend to take action spontaneously, even before the professionals arrive on scene. They comfort one another, provide immediate first aid for the injured, as well as conduct initial search and rescue efforts, and as such contribute to improving the survival rates of victims. Once professional help does arrive, the general public may have valuable information about what happened that can help the professionals build up a Common Operational Picture (COP).

Later in an incident, the general public can further help practitioners in a variety of ways, including assisting with triage (with careful direction from medical personnel), caring for the walking wounded and even assisting with traffic control. The public can be used to help evacuate casualties on stretchers to ambulances and even transport casualties to hospitals. Doing this frees up the professionals, so they can deal with the more serious or life-saving procedures. The public can help family members to find relatives; they can donate blood, offer translation services, provide drinks, or just simply be someone to talk to.

These efforts can sometimes be perceived by the professionals as a barrier to their work; or they can be perceived as valuable support. The general public on site is often willing and ready to help the professionals but, because they are not associated with existing emergency management response systems, these offers of help often pose an additional problem for the crisis management professionals. Many of the tasks need to be coordinated by professionals, or the professionals need to instruct the general public before the latter can start the task.

Focus on increased awareness and training

The notion that citizens are not just victims, but that they can be of benefit to the professional responder community, has gained more recognition recently. What is clear then is that the professionals need to be trained in how to integrate spontaneous volunteers into their response. There are of course questions concerning the practicality and even the legal implications of this cooperation. Although authorities may recognise the importance, it is not yet common procedure for practitioners to collaborate with the public. However, it has now been formally adopted as a priority by governments in some European countries, such as the Netherlands.

This type of collaboration requires soft skills that are not necessarily included in more traditional incident command training for first responders. Learning to collaborate with the general public requires different didactics than learning technical or practical command skills. It also requires a different set of support tools, ones that let the trainees experience the engagement with the target group.

This subject was addressed within the DRIVER project in the pilot Experiment 55.1, which consisted of a one-day training programme whose primary objective was to help crisis management professionals become aware of the benefits of seeing the general public as a resource that can be used as part of an emergency response. This subsequently will be expanded upon using the key findings in a larger experiment later this year. Topics covered during the recent training session included:

  • Different aspects of collaboration with the general public that might impact their work during a crisis;
  • Experiences from practitioners in other countries of collaborating and interacting with people present at the location of the crisis;
  • What the general public is already doing (in different countries) with respect to preparing for disaster and crises;
  • Organisational structures that best help coordinate collaboration with spontaneous volunteers;
  • Key legal implications of involving the public

Fostering societal resilience one of DRIVER’s key aims

In parallel to this is the increased awareness that being involved in a major crisis may well have long-lasting effects on mental health and psychosocial wellbeing. After the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, research, policy and practice was initially largely centred on the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) diagnosis, especially among Western tourists. Critics claim that the response was too PTSD and trauma focused and the last decade has seen an increased emphasis on peoples’ ability to exhibit resilience in the face of adversity. Accordingly, while many people will experience psychological distress following disasters and crises, most people are able to recover using their own resources such as family and social support networks. Only a small percentage will go on to develop mental disorders such as PTSD, anxiety and depression after such events. This means that psychosocial support that promotes family and community support structures is needed for the large majority of people, whereas specialised psychiatric treatment is only needed for a smaller group of people.

Fostering societal resilience is one of the key aims of DRIVER and so a second pilot Experiment 55.2 looked at using Psychological First Aid (PFA) training to help people affected by a crisis to be ‘active survivors’. This training programme focused on the evacuation, response and recovery phases and specifically on psychosocial support given to the general public. The aim was to help first responders recognise and help those people that require immediate psychological first aid during the aftermath of a crisis, the main intention being to reduce the initial psychological distress and to support both short and long-term recovery.

Three scenarios have been developed to help first responders achieve the Psychological First Aid training learning objectives in a digital learning environment. The goal of the experiment was to validate that the three scenarios developed can be used to achieve the PFA learning objectives. The core research question was whether first responders considered the scenarios realistic, relevant and appropriate in relation to the learning objectives. This was measured qualitatively by means of a questionnaire and through feedback in a group discussion from the practitioners involved. An analysis of the results is being collated at the moment and will be used to structure an expanded experiment in 2016 as well as feeding into the larger Joint Experiments later in the project.