An extract from a 'FIREBREAK' article (January 1995 issue) "Preserving and Enhancing Human Resources".

What is a Critical Incident?

Critical Incidents are events that occur outside the usual range of experiences. They are so powerful and sudden that they can overwhelm a person's ability to cope.

Most emergency service workers experience at least one critical incident in the course of their activities. Most people experience some discomfort after exposure to a critical incident. For some, however, the effects are greater.

Timely access to professional support enables people to hasten normal healing and coping processes significantly by sharing views about the incident with others (ie: debriefing). Critical Incident Stress Management is a preventative measure which can help to avoid more serious long term effects of Critical Incident Stress.

What are some common reactions to a Critical Incident?

Different people have different reactions. However some reactions suggest that a person is having difficulty coping with an incident. Sleep disturbance, irritability, poor concentration, confusion, nervousness, anxiety, headaches and nausea are all common reactions to a Critical Incident. Some people report feelings of depression, feeling detached from family and experiencing changes in appetite and sexual interest.

Exposure to a Critical Incident can sometimes result in intrusive memories or dreams of the event. Sometimes this occurs when exposed to a similar event. Different people react in different ways. Even delayed onset of a reaction can occur.

Some people have limited reactions that last only a few days. Others take weeks or months to feel comfortable again. Critical Incident Stress Management aims to address the problems quickly and to speed up the natural recovery process.

Tonia Lee (Durham, Smith and Associates) 23 January 1995