Design Of A Temporary Organization For Emergency Response

By Killorin Riddell, Ph.D.

The community crisis resulting from the January 1994 Northridge earthquake reminded Southern California businesses of the value of contingency planning. Life safety, fire protection, damage containment, and business resumption strategies were invaluable following this disaster. However, what some companies discovered was that restoration of roads, buildings, and infrastructures, protection of physical safety, and financial planning were not sufficient to address the effects of trauma upon the "human" organization.
Today's successful companies have survived by understanding their role and boundary as an organization within an environment of relationships. Trauma produces psychological effects that reverberate throughout the interconnected web of relationships which forms the basis of any enterprise. As a result, costly delays in employee productivity, work group performance, and organizational functioning may occur. The application of knowledge about human factor needs in design of your contingency plan constitutes a proactive intervention to care for your company and save you money.
Design of a Temporary Organization to prevent, mitigate, and manage the spread of trauma is an essential component of any contingency plan that protects a company's survival after a disaster has struck. The alternative is a haphazard, random interplay of traumatized reactions within individuals and groups that interferes with focus on task, cooperative interrelating, and the authority of formal leadership within an organization.
Social scientists have studied the behavior of individuals and groups in crisis. Under stress, boundaries that contain various unprocessed emotions are overwhelmed. Purposeful activity may become jeopardized by reactions that surface unrecognized and unchallenged. The threat of engulfment by intolerable feelings leads to mechanisms of projection and externalization. Interpersonal and intergroup conflicts result.
Companies can intervene through a contingency plan that incorporates the Temporary Organization to anticipate and manage trauma effects on individual, group and organizational levels. Structure of the Temporary Organization is based on applications of Group Relations research and operationalized in consultation products that prepare businesses to respond to human factor needs in an emergency, strengthen the human organization's response to stress, and promote company recovery from trauma.
One of the structures in design of the Temporary Organization is addressed in the psychological literature as "leadership." An application of research findings enables businesses to survive a traumatic event through development of management skills in how to protect critical leadership roles and functions during crises, provide "first aid debriefings" to employees and structure tasks of emergency response so that crisis containment occurs and spread of trauma is minimized.
A disaster creates confusion and the most natural reaction in people is to band together in a communal effort to cope. Organization of the human factor in your contingency plan creates an optimal utilization of your company's strongest advantage in crisis management.
In some instances, the human infrastructure is all that's left after damages to physical structures from aftershocks subside. In any case, human resources are certainly the most important asset your company has to protect its survival.

Killorin Riddell, Ph.D. is a clinical and consulting psychologist and owner of Trauma Intervention Specialists, a consulting firm specializing in business preparedness and intervention before and after a disaster or traumatic event.

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Disaster Recovery Worldİ 1999, and Disaster Recovery Journalİ 1999, are copyrighted by Systems Support, Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or part is prohibited without the express written permission form Systems Support, Inc.