Community Connection: Crisis Response Team offers model for traumatic events

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— In smaller communities like Steamboat Springs, tragedies touch all of us, sometimes more deeply than we’d ever imagine. It is because we interact with friends, neighbors and work colleagues living and working throughout Routt County that we feel connected. And in one way or another, we are.

Community Connection

On behalf of Advocates Building Peaceful Communities, Reaching Everyone Preventing Suicide and Steamboat Mental Health, we have written a three-part series of columns about dealing effectively with traumatic crises.

In the first part, “Dealing with Traumatic Crises,“ we will discuss the Steamboat Springs School District’s Crisis Response Team. How does it operate? What does it teach us? How does it affect the ways we might deal with the personal and community traumas we experience? In the second part, “When Stuff Happens," we’ll delve into how we deal with traumas personally and suggest ways to develop resilient and adaptive strategies for ourselves. Finally, the third part, “Being There,” will focus on how we each can strengthen our community by forming more and deeper interpersonal relationships with friends, neighbors and work colleagues.

Dealing with traumatic crises

The Crisis Response Team is an exemplary model of how to deal effectively with traumatic crises. The team was organized to “objectively, thoughtfully and tenderly guide the staff and students” through the traumatic crisis period, to meet the emotional and practical needs and to restore the school environment to its normal levels of predictability and security. Team members assist and support those whom the crisis affects. The team also mobilizes the agencies and nonprofits of Steamboat to assist and support the school during the crisis. Nearly two dozen members — the superintendent, principals and their assistants, counselors, psychologists, the school nurse, a chaplain and a community mental health professional — comprise the Crisis Response Team.

Its 26-page manual details the roles and responsibilities, guidelines, protocols and procedures team members follow from the earliest moment the school system learns of a traumatic crisis, through team debriefs at the end of the first day and until everyone involved is brought to “safe harbor.” Then, team members stay in constant touch with the school’s staff until normalcy has returned.

A broader perspective

Zooming out offers a perspective that makes it a little easier to draw lessons from our community Crisis Response Team.

• These professionals are committed to meeting the needs of our children and everyone affected by the crisis in a selfless manner. They have sought professional degrees that obligate them to ethical conduct and the development of practical skills that are linked to clear intentional outcomes.

• The team begins with the verified facts of a trauma to establish a shared knowledge base without adding hunches, beliefs, or dramatic comments that might lead to rumors, greater fears or gossip.

• The team encourages parents to recognize that feelings of confusion, extreme sadness, anger, guilt, fear and anxiety are normal. People grieve in different ways for different reasons; it is important that we respect differences and not impose upon others our own beliefs about grief and ways of grieving.

• In face-to-face meetings with students and with those students’ developmental stages and ways of handling grief uppermost in their minds, team members promise and deliver confidentiality because developing trust with an adult is crucial to building a caring relationship with a student.

• Team members avoid judging the grieving people or how they handle their emotions. When we express opinions in a judgmental manner, we build walls that separate ourselves from others, and walls between people lead to less trust and more fear.

After this brief examination of the Crisis Response Team and lessons we may draw from its practices, next week we will shift the focus to the individual level, and look at how traumatic events, memories and emotions affect us personally. We also will present some recent discoveries and methods that might assist community members in achieving more conscious control and developing more resilient, adaptive strategies.

This column is written in consultation with the boards and staff of Advocates Building Peaceful Communities, Reaching Everyone Preventing Suicide and Steamboat Mental Health as well as other social workers, clinical psychologists, therapists, religious leaders and residents of Routt County.

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