Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Preparing yourself and others

Consider this situation:

You work as a student counsellor in a TAFE institution on the Gold Coast. Last year one of your most successful and popular Japanese students drowned while swimming at a surf beach. This occurred during the November assessment period and affected the whole college. Many of the student’s friends approached your support staff for counselling and special consideration.Also, a number of your colleagues were subsequently affected by stress related illness.

What kind of preparations could be made for a possible recurrence of this event? What could you do:

Number 1 on the list – Have a plan.
1. Student records review.

a. What do we collect?
b. What don’t we collect?

i. Colour passport photo.
ii. Copy of passport
iii. Copy of Student Visa.

c. Why do we / don’t we collect information.
d. What are the obstacles / is the risk acceptable?

2. What is the USQ Critical incident policy?

a. Where is it located?
b. Who are the key members of any co-ordinating team?
c. Who is the media contact?
d. How are these people able to be contacted, after hours.

3. In the event of a serious injury to a student, requiring a long or indefinite hospital stay.

a. Who is responsible for the students personal effects?
b. Rental agreements, other bills, debts?

4. In the event of a death who can access emergency funds?

a. Are Student Guilds still supplying full insurance cover for students now that guild fees have become voluntary?
b. Who should secure students belongings, in the event of a delay in family arriving?
c. Are personal belongings to be stored on-campus or handed over to the Public Trustee?

To prepare yourself?

o Refer to “The Plan”
o Remain calm, responsive and strong (there will be time to deal with personal fallout (emotions) once the required actions are completed)
o Listen actively – understanding that people respond to shock in a multitude of ways.
o Speak in controlled / low vocal tones, clearly and slowly.
o Accept grief / shock behaviours and don’t be afraid to empathise. (A good descriptor of empathy is your pain in my heart)

To prepare your colleagues?

o Referring to Number 1 on the list – Have a plan
o Distribute / provide easy access to the plan.
o Provide a list of key contacts for each department or members of the co-ordinating team – including after hours contact.
o Provide a links to key resources.
o Train for the plan.
? Assist staff to be aware of common psychological reactions, including post traumatic stress.
? One of the PIER resources noted: http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au This is a great site to understand the effects a critical incident can have on all.

To minimise the risk?

o When meeting to plan activities, consider what risks the students are likely to be exposed to.
o Further seeks to consider risks that may not be immediately obvious due to ‘local or common knowledge’. Local or common knowledge may be completely unknown to foreigners and Australians not familiar with the particular environment. Eg: Outback rural people holidaying at the Gold Coast for the first time.
o For visits to the Gold Coast

- basic instructions provided on the bus when you have the students attention are beneficial.
- A5 handout (pictorial concepts are ideal) noting:
- Lifeguard
- Flags – Swim between the flags.
- How to signal for help
- How to survive rips, surf boards and body surfers.
- Things that bite and sting (blue bottle jellyfish and sharks)
- Shark alarm
- Wear a hat, sunscreen and t-shirt
- Drink plenty of water
- Attending staff member / volunteers mobile phone number.
- Bus departure time (and street name if possible)
- http://www.lifesaving.com.au/beachSmart/surfSafety.cfm

To deal with any cultural issues that may exist?

o If general cultural issues are not covered in “the plan” contact local (Gold Coast and Hometown of University) ethnic groups who may be able to assist.
o Where possible involve friends of the deceased / critically injured, this may be quite emotional for all involved but may also assist friends to go through the grieving process by ensuring appropriate cultural protocols are followed.

What could you not prepare for?

o The human factor.
o At times, no amount of risk awareness will quash bravado or the “having fun” element of life.
o People are human, sometimes no amount of training will guarantee a person will be able to function in a real crisis. Training helps prepare – it does not guarantee follow through.
o Misunderstanding culture with generalities. Eg: If a person comes from England, are they western minded and / or likely to be Christian? (Perhaps this one could be scratched off, if student records recorded ALL student details as noted in Number 1 above.)

How do you prepare yourself and others for unexpected situations?


Author: Eileen Hjertum - PIER Online Diploma student

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