Disaster Aftermath And The Lingering Stress

In the panhandle of Florida, and elsewhere, communities are working hard to return to normalcy after Hurricane Michael struck about two weeks ago. The damage is now estimated at more than $8 billion, though nothing matters more than the loss of life, of course.

At Findlay All Hazards we think of how businesses work to recover operations in the aftermath of this kind of massive storm. The return-to-service of a business facility is not just important to the company in question.

When a community sees its manufacturers up and running again, they know that their world is once again setting straight.

The restoration of critical business procedures is something we teach from a proactive position. We wish such calamities did not exist. But when they do appear, we watch disasters like this one all through the restoration phase, with the goal of learning how to help you better prepare for a future catastrophe.

In the recent past, we’ve written about how to plan for crises like hurricanes, including the importance of a business continuity plan. One aspect of such a plan that we have not highlighted, however, is the inclusion of mental health care in the business activities that follow a terrible, damaging storm. Care for both body and mind is a serious consideration for EHS managers who might find themselves working to restore their facilities and workforce after a disaster. It doesn’t have to be a hurricane. Events like a bad fire, a widespread chemical release, a tornado, or a disease outbreak can set off a long period of recovery. The challenges of that time (even with prior planning) can be a long list, and mental health should not be forgotten.

A recent AP story talks about how people in the Panama City, Florida, area are now suffering under the intense stress that’s part of the post-hurricane experience: “Health workers say they are seeing signs of mental problems in residents more than a week after Michael, and the issues could continue as a short-term disaster turns into a long-term recovery that will take years.”

Think about the person who is dealing with severe damage to their home, the loss of (or injury to) relatives, friends, and neighbors, and who might be without power, proper water, etc. Now, remember that person may have the added responsibilities that come with a career and dedicated service to their employer. They want to see their workplace return to productivity as soon as they can and may have even committed to being part of a business recovery team. The burden on their shoulders might be more than any employer can reasonably expect them to bear. Most business continuity plans take first aid and medical attention into account, but how much consideration have you given to counseling and relaxation options for your team?

Anyone’s mental condition will suffer in the aftermath of a serious calamity. With the pressures of recovery, people who are stressed from all the activity and decisions and long days sometimes just don’t get the downtime, away from the crux of the disaster, to allow their mind to clear. So, even if psychological care is not readily available to your company in a crisis period, your recovery plan should make room for more breaks and rest than would normally be scheduled in a common work week. And if mental health professionals in your area are swamped by the demands of people suffering from emergency-related stress, seek attention from sources in other areas. Counselors can provide assistance by video chat or a simple phone call. Sometimes just the act of a professional counselor asking someone how they feel in a tough time can be enough to help that worker through the day and get them to more confidently focus on the tough task at hand.

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