(Written by Michael Bugenhagen, FEI Business Development Manager)
An article on campus safety I recently read discussed the effects of trauma on the mental health of campus first responders and staff. It prompted me to think about individuals who may be overlooked with regard to their “involvement” with tragedy. While this instance applies to a campus setting, it can impact organizations across the globe.

As an example, I recall a story about the emotional and traumatic impact on workers at a local department store during the major Colorado fires a couple years ago. They were not directly impacted by the events, but many of the customers purchasing items had lost everything. Employees were gradually affected by the stories of loss and despair and struggled with feelings of guilt since they and their possessions were safe.

This kind of secondary trauma can also apply to campuses and business organizations that rely on groups of volunteers or customer service departments to answer calls from upset and traumatized callers related to crisis events—health outbreaks, campus or workplace shootings, natural disasters, cyber-hacks and other potential traumatic events. These crises bring varying levels of secondary trauma exposure to those receiving the calls.

One university recognized a number of reasons why it made sense to scale back their volunteer emergency call center on campus and partner with an external expert, including the potential psychological impact on the volunteer team. The experience the outside provider would bring to the process was also important, as they typically staff mental health professionals who hold master’s degrees or higher and have the training to communicate effectively with people impacted by disaster.

Similarly, a hospitality organization saw the value of outside partnership after a health outbreak. They had both a human and economic impact for their decision. First, having their representatives field calls would mean they would be unable to fulfill the normal responsibilities associated with customer service and reservations. Second, and more importantly, they were not specifically trained to manage the emotional impact of calls, such as those from mothers asking about their child’s exposure to a serious health issue.

Whether it’s a university, a hospitality business or a department store in Colorado, every organization should consider the advantages of outside partnership and the importance of training both volunteers and employees to be psychologically resilient when responding to crisis events.

If you would like more information on outside partnership or strengthening the training of your own teams, please let me know by reaching out directly.

*This is part of a series promoting May 2016 as Mental Health Awareness Month. You can now read all of FEI’s entries.