Experiment 55.2: Psychological First Aid for First Responders

Experiment 55.2: Psychological First Aid for First Responders

People who are affected by both small and large scale crises and disasters are often exposed to very distressing experiences, becoming separated from family members or their personal belongings, losing loved ones, being evacuated from their homes, or simply having to deal with the disruption to essential services.

First responders are usually the first to arrive at an incident, so they normally have the initial contact with any survivors. First responders are also involved in the recovery phase, for example at recovery centres and in leading any reconstruction efforts. This means that they are very well positioned to address the immediate, as well as the longer-term, mental health and psychosocial needs of the general public.

If the objective is to have active survivors rather than passive victims, then well-trained and properly equipped responders can have a major effect on how well an individual, a family or even a community is able to recover from a disaster. If handled professionally and with care at such a vulnerable time, people can recover well and even be able to participate actively in the relief and reconstruction efforts.

The Psychosocial Centre of the Danish Red Cross has developed, along with other partners in DRIVER, a scenario-based training course in Psychological First Aid (PFA) for first responders. The one-day course consists of a traditional classroom-based theoretical introduction to the four steps of PFA followed by three scenarios that have been developed to show different situations, in which first responders should provide PFA to people in distress during the different stages of a flooding disaster. During the scenarios the participants are able to test and improve the skills they learnt in the first part of the training.

The scenarios are delivered on the XVR Simulation Platform, which provides a realistic, repeatable and immersive learning environment for incident response professionals. XVR uses a combination of 3D virtual simulation, map-based information, photography and videos to support a variety of learning methods.

On 19th May 2016, the scenarios were tested in the training college of the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (Revinge, Sweden) with a group of participants from different parts of the Swedish crisis management community. It is the first time the PS Centre has used scenarios in this way to train Psychological First Aid and the aim of this course was to assess how well this approach worked and whether it is a useful way to enhance learning. Based on the results of this experiment, the scenarios and the design of the course itself will be further improved and tested again later in the project.

“While the basic theory of PFA is fairly straightforward and simple to teach, it is less simple to ensure that participants actually feel confident that they are able to provide good emotional support to people in distress during crisis. It is our hope that by introducing highly interactive and realistic scenarios, the participants will gain a higher feeling of confidence in delivering PFA, should the need occur”, explains PS Centre technical advisor Louise Vinther-Larsen.

To read further details of the experiment, please visit http://pscentre.org/testing-new-training-methods/