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CISM - Section II

There are two main goals of a Critical Incident Stress Debriefing:

1. - Mitigate the impact of the Critical Incident on those who were victims of the event:

  • Primary victims, i.e. those directly traumatized by the event.
  • Secondary victims, such as emergency services personnel.
  • Tertiary victims, i.e. family, friends, and those to who the traumatic event may be directly communicated.

    2. - Accelerate recovery process in people who experiencing stress reactions to abnormal traumatic events.

    The CISM process is considered one of the most important mechanisms to reduce the potential of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It allows people to verbalize their distress and form appropriate concepts about stress reaction before false interpretations of the experience are fixed in their minds.

    The core focus of CISM is the relief of stress in normal, emotionally healthy people who have experienced traumatic events. The debriefing has not been developed to resolve degenerative stress or personal problems which existed before the disaster or traumatic event which is the subject of the debriefing.

    Secondary objectives of the CISM process:

  • Education about stress, stress reactions and survival techniques
  • Emotional ventilation
  • Reassurance that the stress response is controllable and that recovery is likely
  • Forewarning people about signs and symptoms which might not show in the near future
  • Reduction in the fallacy of uniqueness (or feeling that one has singled out to be a victim)
  • Reduction of the fallacy of abnormality
  • Establishment of a positive contact with a mental health workers
  • Enhancement of group cohesiveness
  • Enhancement of interagency cooperation
  • Prevention or mitigation of PTSD
  • Screening for people who need additional assistance of therapy
  • Referral counseling or other services as necessary

    A Critical Incident is defined as any event with sufficient emotional reactions in people now or later. It is an event which is considered generally outside the range of ordinary human experiences. The incident may be the foundation for PTSD if it is not resolved effectively and quickly.

    The CISD has been developed to help people cope with the most stressful events. It was designed with the routine in mind. CISM should not be applied only to those events which are extraordinary. Overuse of the process will dilute itís potency and cause it to be far less helpful on more serious events. If mildly disturbing events occur, other types of interventions should be applied.

    The NJ CISM Team, is a not for profit peer support team formed to provide Crisis Intervention to Emergency Services Personnel, their support systems and other affected individuals.

    This team will assist the ESPís to maintain their physical, emotional, and spiritual wellness, by validating and supporting their feelings and perceptions. The team will support comprehensive, on-going education for the ESPís, significant others and the general public.


    The Critical Incident Stress (CIS) syndrome may defined as:
  • Responding to a scene and becoming overwhelmed by what someone sees, hears, touches, touches or smells.
  • Experiencing normal reactions to an ABNORMAL EVENT

    The CIS syndrome has been researched thoroughly, and is known to effect up to 87% of all emergency service personnel both (career and volunteer) at some point in their careers. It will affect veterans and new workers and those working in urban and rural environments. NO ONE. In fact is immune. CIS symptoms are most often temporary in nature, disappearing within a few weeks. Some workers, however, may suffer prolonged debilitating symptoms. The most common events which trigger CIS symptoms include:

    1. The death of a co-worker
    2. Mass casualty events
    3. The death of a child
    4. Death after a prolonged rescue effort
    5. Victim reminding one of another
    6. Highly dangerous event
    7. High media interest
    8. Emergency services personnel causing an injury or death.

    BEFORE: Understand exactly what CIS is and how it can occur. Accept itís symptoms and effects as normal and temporary reactions.
    DURING: Accept unusual reactions such as fear, confusion, anxieties, or strong emotions as normal. Know that these symptoms are temporary. Back off and take a rest when necessary.
    DONíT DOUBT YOUR ABILITIES, or fear that you canít continue to serve.
    AFTER: Donít be afraid to talk about your feelings and emotions with your co-workers and loved ones. Allow yourself time to get over the event. Get back into your routine as quickly as possible, but donít expect instant recovery. You have been emotionally injured, and all injuries take time to heal - allow yourself that time because you deserve it.

    Most importantly, understand and accept the fact that you do have to suffer from the effects of CIS ALONE. All of us have been there, and we understand. You have been involved in a type of incident which frequently causes problems for emergency responders. Many of these problems involve feelings of being overwhelmed or inadequate, or of anger at what happened or a frustration that not enough was done. When faced with this type of event, some workers experience physical problems including nausea, profuse sweating or chills, tremors, or an increased pulse rate. They may become confused and have difficulty making decisions or remembering orders or procedures. Some personnel suffer a sense of grief, anger, or far of the eventís repetition. Numbness, isolation, and a sense of being alone are also common feelings that emergency services workers feel.

    After the event, it isnít uncommon for emergency services personnel to suffer from nightmares, flashbacks, poor sleeping and eating habits, moodiness, irritability and anxiety. One of the most serious problems concerns reliving the event and being overly critical. If you have any of these or similar problems, or experience them in the near future, understand that what you are suffering is not unusual. All of the above are symptoms of a syndrome which affects almost ALL Police Officers, Firefighters, Dispatchers and EMS personnel. This syndrome is called Critical Incident Stress, or CIS and itís symptoms are completely normal reactions suffered by normal people in an abnormal event.

    Click here to go to CISM - Section III and learn some basic CISM techniques to help a co-worker, friend or family member.

    Click here to return to CISM - Section I.