This section provides a guide to recognizing and meeting common physical and emotional problems encountered during disaster relief activities. Experience has shown that promoting and main-taining good health, especially by coping with the stresses encountered overseas, are the keys to successful performance.
The most important key to personal health and safety is to follow briefings given by OFDA, the State Department, the DART Team Leader, the USAID Mission in-country, the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in-country, and affected-country contacts. They can provide up-to-date details on disease, sanitation, food and water safety, personal and property security, and other information to keep team members healthy and safe during the assignment.
Team members should never knowingly put their lives in jeopardy. "Stay alert, keep calm, think clearly, and act decisively" should be their motto. Tasks should be accomplished by putting safety first.
Team members may experience two different but related types of stress. The first is culture shock, which comes from suddenly being placed in a foreign environment. The second is the emotional and physical impact that often comes from being immersed in a disaster.
Between arriving in-country and reaching the disaster site, team members may experience classic culture shock. The team member is a foreigner and may be frustrated because of an inability to communicate with the local population; anxiety and frustration may erode his or her customary level of self-confidence.
The team member should expect to be disoriented and confused and realize that this response is natural and often happens to others in similar situations. Patience, realistic expectations of an ability to make a difference, and a sense of humor are good coping strategies in these circumstances. The team member should not expect the affected country and the victims to change their ways of doing things to accommodate relief workers.
No one who sees a major disaster remains emotionally untouched by it. Typical reactions are feelings of frustration, hopelessness, that simply too much suffering exists, and one person can have relatively little impact.
The combined effects of cultural stress and job stress make team members vulnerable to physical and emotional exhaustion. Some people refer to this condition as "burnout." It can happen to anyone.
The disaster-related stress caused by these factors is often referred to as critical-incident stress (CIS). A critical incident is any incident so unusually stressful to an individual as to cause an immediate or delayed emotional reaction that surpasses available coping mechanisms. Critical incidents take many forms, including all emergencies that cause personnel to experience unusually strong reactions.
The effects of critical incidents can include profound behavioral changes that may occur immediately or may be delayed for months or years.
Following are some ways team members may be affected by stress during disaster operations.
Following are some ways to minimize stress during a disaster operation.
Team members should try to stay in touch with family back home if they can. Communication helps prevent the sense of being strangers when they return after the disaster.
Team Leaders can take specific, practical action to prevent and reduce the effects of CIS, consequently avoiding the personal and organizational costs associated with treatment. Steps include:
Experiencing stress during a disaster operation is normal, but remember that stress can be identified and managed.