In the third and final article in their series, Dr Ian Hesketh and Dr Noreen Tehrani examine the psychological trauma of responding to major disasters and how best to look after officers welfare in the aftermath.
A major crisis or disaster can have a significant impact on police officers and staff. Natural disasters such as floods causing multiple drownings; transport disasters involving aircraft, trains, or road traffic collisions with large numbers of casualties; major fires involving large-scale destruction and loss of life; technological failures leading to chemical or radioactive contamination; and terrorist and other criminal activity, including suicide bombings, marauding terrorists, acid attacks and other terror activities all trigger the need for a major policing response. The UK has experienced many of these during the past year. In this article we will explore what can, and should, be done in response to these, the most horrific and traumatic incidents. What we suggest is to build resilience by creating structures, which will enable forces to use their contingency planning expertise to build enhanced systems of psychological support, thus allowing forces to draw assistance from each other as a means of sharing disaster management awareness and increasing operational resilience. The involvement in dealing with a disaster has a major impact on all those involved, with the impact being long-term and potentially life-changing for many of those directly involved. What is a major disaster? There is no commonly accepted definition of a disaster; the Civil Contingency Act describes a civil emergency as an event that threatens public welfare and security. Whenever a civil emergency is declared, emergency powers are handed to the police and other emergency services, local authorities and the NHS. Supporting police officers and staff during a civil emergency can create a significant challenge to policing organisations. The needs of the responders must be balanced with the need to protect the safety and security of the public. It is often said, in acknowledgement of the bravery and sense of public duty, that the police run towards what the majority is running away from. When faced with a major disaster, where there have been multiple deaths and injuries, it is vital to provide effective and efficient support to those involved in responding. It is also important to ensure, as far as possible, that responders can remain operational to deal with the crisis or disaster, and handle the aftermath, which can ensue for a considerably longer period. Forces have a statutory duty to prepare comprehensive emergency plans to work with other emergency services and agencies to protect the public. However, it is equally important that they have other, parallel, plans designed to support the health and wellbeing of their own staff and officers. As with our earlier articles, we will be using a health and safety framework to structure the required responses by: 1.Identifying the psychological risks faced in policing; 2.Describing those who may be directly or indirectly affected; 3.Selecting an approach to reducing the risks and mitigating the impact; and 4.Monitoring and evaluating the interventions. Psychological risks of dealing with a major disaster Each disaster is unique and carries with it its own physical and psychological hazards. Typically, the first responders at a disaster will be frontline uniformed officers and staff. While working to keep the public safe the lives of these initial responders can be placed at significant risk, as they work to rescue the survivors, treat the injured, protect the scene, recover bodies and deal with bystanders, families, friends and members of the public. In large disasters there can be several hundred police officers involved, dealing with the immediate incident, and its aftermath. The business as usual trauma responses described in our first papers are unlikely to be adequate in these circumstances, particularly where the initial trauma response is reliant on local peer debriefers or TRiM (trauma risk management) assessors. In a large disaster, the primary role of the responder is to take part in the emergency response, and not to provide