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Disaster mental health: A critical incident stress management program (CISM) to mitigate compassion fatigue

Norma S.C. Jones, DSW, Kamilah Majied, PhD


This article presents a critical incident stress management program (CISMP) that is designed to anticipate and mitigate the emotional impact of external and internal critical incidents upon individuals and groups who deliver disaster recovery services. This comprehensive program provides for immediate and sustained responses to assist disaster workers in effectively minimizing the emotional detriment of stressful incidents, resulting from interactions with disaster victims. Disaster workers have the potential to experience compassion fatigue as they listen to the disaster survivors’ stories of pain and losses, and work long work hours over extended work periods. The program is a structured, peer-driven, clinician-guided, and supported process designed to provide interventions to address disaster-related mental health issues. Emphasis is placed on individual peer support for immediate action, and specialized individual and group support, assessment, and referral is provided by a stress management clinician. Peer partners participate in a training program, which includes: (1) an overview of stress assessment and management; (2) critical/intervention orientation; (3) identification and utilization of peer support techniques; (4) event preplanning, event briefings, defusings, and debriefings; (5) protocol for responding to an incident; and (6) basic information on workplace violence.


compassion fatigue; critical incident; stress management; disaster workers

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