Friday, June 19, 2009

FOPs: Friends of Pilots

The Quarterback recently had dinner with someone involved in Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) for pilots. We were discussing the crash in Buffalo in February that killed 50 people. I commented that I supposed those who work with pilots are mostly working with colleagues who are upset by a loss of their own in situations like that, because obviously they aren't working with the pilots themselves.

My companion said that some of the most intense work they do isn't with pilots who are in incidents or standard "line of duty death" sorts of intervention. He told me about someone who is often the one most affected by the event, someone I had never thought about -- I bet you haven't either.

As you probably know, when a crash is being investigated, they're always looking for the "black boxes" from the plane. On big planes there are two: a flight data recorder, that records what the plane was doing before it crashed, what the instrument readings were, etc., and a cockpit voice recorder, which records what the cockpit crew was saying. When they listen to the voice recorder, they're not just listening to the words, but also for background noises, inflections, and other subtle cues.

The tricky thing about the voice recorder, however, is that there are usually at least two people in the cockpit. Both of them are very stressed, neither of them are enunciating clearly, and their voices may sound very similar. Whoever is transcribing the voice recording and listening for background sounds, etc., needs to be able to distinguish between the two voices.

So who do you get to do that? You get someone who knows both the pilot and the co-pilot well. You get one of their mutual friends, the closest one they have. That person has to listen to a recording of their buddies dying, over and over and over again. That person, already experiencing the traumatic stress of the death of a colleague on the job, must have the added and repeated sensory exposure of the tapes.

Not surprisingly, whoever that is often gets two CISM team members assigned just to them. God bless whoever that was in Buffalo, whoever it will be in Brazil or France, and everyone who has to go through that. And God bless the CISM teams that help them. They sure need it.

N.B. You may note that in the sidebar there's now a place for you to leave suggestions of current events you'd like the Quarterback to blog about. I'm interested in what you're interested in -- let me know!


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Naomi Zikmund-Fisher
is a clinical social worker, former school Principal and a Crisis Consultant for schools and community organizations. You can learn more about her at
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