Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Crisis Responder's Dilemma

A few weeks ago, I received an e-mail from a man in Nigeria.  This is not news -- my spam folder is often filled with requests from various people purporting to be related to Nigerian government officials asking for assistance getting money out of the country.  Yours probably is too.  These solicitations are uniformly bogus, but this one was a little different.  This one was supposedly from a representative of an educational consulting firm in Lagos asking me to come do training in crisis response for educators at an upcoming conference.  As I do with the money emails, I ignored it.

The next day I received another e-mail, at a different address.  The content was roughly the same.  This time, I took the time to confirm that no one from Lagos had actually accessed my website, and I googled the company and found nothing.  I ignored it again.

A couple of days later, I received a voice mail from this man.  The phone number was indeed Nigerian, he sounded Nigerian, and I was somewhat puzzled by his persistence.  I started to wonder how I would know if this request was legitimate?  I e-mailed the gentleman and asked for a link to the company website.  I received a response saying that the company was relatively new but they would send me their company profile.

On Friday, I received a glitzy pdf file of a brochure for an educational consulting company in Lagos.  The pictures are beautiful, the address appears to be a real place, and the lingo is generically authentic-sounding.  There is a website listed, but if you go to that website you will find it does not exist -- there's a "squatter" website, the kind that people put up when they think they might be able to sell the name to someone else someday.

If you combine the Nigerian connection, the nonexistent website, the delay in getting me their profile, and the fact that they are willing to hire me and fly me half way around the world without much discussion, this offer is almost certainly a scam.  I'm not sure what the angle is, but I don't really want to find out.  When you add in the recent violence in Nigeria, I am not going to be going to Lagos.

This situation may be more unusual and more entertaining than most, but it illustrates a difficult issue.  There are times when folks who do crisis response are needed in places that they would not choose to go otherwise.  Teams are deploying to Haiti right now who would never go to Haiti under other circumstances, even before the earthquake.  People who are traumatized are not always in the most luxurious of circumstances, and they do not time their traumas to suit a nice, 9-5 schedule.

Like paramedics, firefighters, and other first responders, those of us who do early crisis intervention have to decide if we have the skills to help without endangering ourselves, physically or mentally.  Sometimes these choices are obvious -- the situation is obviously safe or obviously not.  Once in a while, however, there's a judgment call to be made.  We'll never know if we made the right one.  We just do the best we can.


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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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