Phillip DeMara, consultant and trainer in emergency behavioral health, shares best practices for ensuring accurate and effective operations during times of stress.
1. Learn more. Stress, within optimal limits, can be beneficial. It can help maintain attention, focus, and creativity. Research also clearly shows that heightened levels of stress experienced by operators can have a significant impact on operations, operational awareness, and the mission. High levels of stress have been shown to significantly decrease functionality in problem solving, decision making, judgment, logic, reasoning, and verbal processing. All of these are critical abilities during operations center activities.
2. Share your knowledge. Share the information you learn about operational stress with staff and ensure that staff are encouraged to seek assistance. Workers who work back-to-back shifts, ignore basic self-care, and ignore the effects of stress are a liability to the operation and your ability to maintain situational awareness.
3. Change the culture. Create a culture where stress-reducing and help-seeking behaviors are supported and encouraged. Such behaviors include talking about stress and its impact and making available and encouraging the use of support systems—internal, external, or professional. Establishing regular and consistent opportunities to review and process what happened before, during, and after an incident and its impact on the individual and the team will help build such a culture.
4. Encourage monitoring. This is the responsibility of everyone involved in the operation: staff performing self-monitoring, peers paying attention to a teammate's demeanor, and supervisors monitoring outputs, workflow, and overall performance. A high-functioning team knows each other well and can be the first line of identifying and assisting with managing the impact of stress on workers.
5. Add to training and procedures. Include operational stress management in procedures and policies, trainings, and exercises. This is not basic stress management for health and wellness; this is an attention to the cause of stressors in the work environment, as well as a focus on mitigating those stressors. Examples of policies and procedures include having clear roles and responsibilities for workers; limiting hours worked in high-stress, high-trauma environments; and clear guidance on how stress and stress reactions should be handled by the individual and the organization.