Emerald Isle team gives first-aid after tragedy
Posted by PA3 Jonathan Lally, Tuesday, May 1, 2012
Kodiak, Alaska, is home to the largest U.S. Coast Guard base in the world with more than 3,500 active duty, reservists, retirees, Department of Homeland Security civilians and family members in the area. The Emerald Isle is the second largest island in the United States and the Coast Guard family makes up about a quarter of the overall island’s population.
Kodiak is a fishing community and its economy is maritime based. Everyone on the island is familiar with the Coast Guard. They either know someone who was rescued by the Coast Guard, are neighbors with a Coast Guardsmen, sit on a board with a Coast Guardsmen, have a family member who is in the Coast Guard or they simply respect and support the mission of the Coast Guard.
The recent shooting at the Communication Station Kodiak that claimed the lives of two shipmates impacted everyone on the island deeply because of these close ties and the Critical Incident Stress Management team has been working to offer support for the past two weeks.
Also involved in the efforts to help with the incident were two fluffy companions of Lt. Cmdr. Deb Cawthorn, District 17 health, safety and work-life regional practice manager. Cawthorn’s dogs are trained therapy dogs to help people get through tough times in life.
“Visiting with a pet brings back wonderful memories, allowing for a meaningful connection to happier times and pet visitation has been medically proven to have a calming effect,” said Cawthorn. “Touching animals helps chase away loneliness, depression, withdrawal and in this case crisis. So we gave it a try and it seemed to be quite therapeutic during this tragic event.”
Initially CISM was developed for fire services in the mid-80s and about a decade later the Coast Guard started using it for first responders to those involved in traumatic events.
“In Kodiak we have a unique situation because we’re a small community we have a joint CISM team,” said John Eaton, CISM team coordinator. “At any given time our team has 60 to 70 people, which about half are members of the local community and the other half is Coast Guardsmen.”
According to Eaton the local community half of the team includes nurses, school counselors, clergy, firefighters, mental health professionals and others.
The CISM team is trained to provide pre-incident education, preparation, strategic planning, assessment and triage, and how to provide critical incident stress management services to individuals, small and large groups of people impacted by a traumatic event.
“When people experience critical incidents they are affected in five domains; they way they think, their emotions, their behavior, physically and spiritually,” said Eaton. “Everyone reacts differently. What’s a critical incident for me might not be for you and vice versa.”
Overall to help Coast Guard Base Kodiak members get through this tragedy the CISM team brought in about 10 other highly trained members from outside of Kodiak. The additional CISM team members came from, Seattle, Boston, San Pedro and Point Reyes, Calif., Ketchikan, Juneau and Anchorage, Alaska. Through the coordinated efforts of the joint team they were able to conduct more than 230 one-on-one sessions with Coast Guardsmen and first responders, reach out to several local schools and about 13 Kodiak-based Coast Guard units not directly involved with the incident.
“People’s thoughts and emotions are out of balance, what they normally do to cope isn’t working, and there are signs of significant distress or impairment,” said Eaton. “It’s not the event that makes something a critical incident; it’s how they are reacting to it.”
Eaton described CISM like emotional first-aid to help get people the proper help and resources to get them through a critical incident and deal with all their other stressors.
“We usually tell people the best resources available to them are each other but other resources include local clergy, chaplains, mental health professionals and CISM trained members that people can reach out to during critical times,” said Eaton. “CISM interventions aim to minimize psychological impact and return teams to normal functioning post-incident.”