Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Decade in Crisis Response

This week, many in the blogosphere are writing about their "top 10" or "bottom 10" for the past year or decade, or about their hopes for the coming year in their particular area of expertise.  I thought long and hard about writing about my hopes for the coming year in crisis response, but my honest hope is that very few people will need crisis response in 2010.  That may be unrealistic, but if we're talking about New Year's Wishes, then that's mine.  Besides, I am a Monday Morning Quarterback, which means I specialize in looking back.  So here is my review of the last decade's major crises (as designated by my executive Quarterback fiat) and how they were handled:

  • Y2K.  Remember that?  Remember how civilization as we know it was going to come to a grinding halt at the stroke of midnight 10 years ago?  This was the crisis that wasn't.  Quarterback Points go to the people who realized there was a problem and set about trying to solve it.  Quarterback Demerits for the complete failure of anyone in government to share any kind of unified message about what to expect, or even to figure out how big the problem really was.  The result was people with stockpiled food and weapons and nothing to do with them.  Never a good thing.
  • 9-11.  This was undoubtedly a defining moment for our country and perhaps for the world.  It also was a defining moment in crisis response to see what the early trauma intervention community could do on a truly huge scale.  Quarterback Points to ICISF and the many CISM Teams around the country that went to Ground Zero for months after the event.  Points also to the various agencies that recognized the need of their people for immediate and longterm mental health support.  We also have points for the surrounding communtiy in New York that took responsibility for nourishing the first responders' bodies and spirits.  Finally, points for our country and the world for recognizing the need to support each other in addition to getting angry.  In a million small ways, for a few weeks we all remembered what it meant to be human.  We were all in this together.  Quarterback Demerits to the quick transformation from a balance between the emotional reaction and the tactical response to an entirely action-oriented focus where grief and trauma had no place to breathe.  Big demerits also to the brass at the New York City Fire Department who had long resisted implementing CISM in their organization and had no effective way of supporting their people, and to EAPs and corporations who violated basic rules of CISM like "don't mix the people who were there with the people who weren't" and then threw up their hands and said that CISM doesn't work.
  • Hurricane Katrina.  Much has been and will be written on the governmental response, or lack thereof, to Katrina.  While I certainly have opinions on whether things were handled decently, I'm only looking at the emotional and mental health repercussions.  Therefore Quarterback Points to Jesse Jackson and other leaders, particularly in the African American community, who recognized quickly that dispersing the residents of New Orleans throughout the country was a bad idea.  People needed to stay together and as close to home as possible.  I didn't get that at the time, but I see it now.  Quarterback Demerits to everyone who opened their mouth without sufficient information during and immediately after the storm, or who put a rosy face on things to save their own rear ends.  It is one thing to not have your needs met.  It's another to have someone say on national TV that they are helping you when they aren't.  From "Heck of a job, Brownie," to press conferences claiming there were no people stranded at the convention center, what was said publicly was a kick in the teeth for the people of New Orleans.
  • H1N1.  If you read this blog with any frequency, you know I've had a lot to say on this topic. This story isn't really over yet, but that's never stopped me before.  Quarterback Points to the CDC and local health departments for coordinating their fall prevention and education efforts so much better than they did in the spring.  Quarterback Demerits also to the CDC and local health departments for completely failing to coordinate in the spring, causing the message to be garbled, confusing, and scary.  Demerits also go out to Joe Biden for his absurd comments about flying on airplanes, and to every person who had the unmitigated gall to try to use this disease as an argument regarding immigration policy.  Finally, the whopper of all demerits to the U.S. media, who simply could not report facts without hype and are still having trouble doing so, and who can't seem to find context for statistics to save their lives.
Finally, a personal note.  I've been writing this blog for just about 7 months now.  It is not in any danger of overloading the servers at Blogger with its many daily hits, but there are a hardcore few of you who read it regularly, and many more who drop by on occasion.  Quarterback Points to you for supporting this effort, and for recognizing that approaching the fear, sadness and anxiety that our world can provoke with a trained eye is worth striving for, for all of our sakes.  Here's to a crisis-free 2010.


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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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