awareness@work 4 – May 20, 2020

An Experienced Aviation Leader Discusses the Growth of Awareness in the Airport Sector

Written by: Carolyn V. Coarsey. Ph.D.

It was soon obvious that when we took the time needed to care for our employees, and customers, following a traumatic event, our organization would benefit as well.

Christopher Rausch, ACE

Airport Duty Manager, Public Safety & Security

Sky Harbor International Airport

 The intention of the Foundation’s new series awareness@work is to shed light on how leaders within business organizations today are responding to those impacted by a crisis in the workplace. Whether one person, (customer, employee, family member) or a group of people are experiencing trauma, many organizations are initiating change in how they respond.

    Awareness of how the needs of distressed people can be met within the context of the workplace has risen dramatically with the evolution of Care and Special Assistance Teams throughout the world. Once cautioned against approaching a distressed survivor due to concerns over liability, many companies today encourage employees to contact them without fear, expressing sorrow and thereby showing true compassion toward the impacted individual.

     This new series features comments by program leaders as to the changes they are experiencing and challenges for the future of their programs. Christopher Rausch, a leader in the airport sector of aviation, based at Sky Harbor International Airport, Phoenix, AZ, responded to questions about the trend of awareness within his organization. 

CVC: Since you first started your work involving humanitarian assistance in the workplace, what changes have you noticed in how people are responding when trauma or any suffering takes place?  
CR: Having worked in the aviation industry my entire life, I have seen humanitarian response improve dramatically. In the mid-late 80’s following an accident or incident the focus of most airline executives was hurry and get the situation behind us so we can get back to operations as usual. Luckily, after various failures (and lawsuits) using this approach, and thanks to the 1996 Aviation Disaster Family Assistance Act, things started to take a turn in the right direction. Aside from those of us who worked in the humanitarian field, there were a few executives who really got it and did a lot to help turn things around in our industry. It was soon obvious that when we took the time needed to care for our employees, and customers, following a traumatic event, our organization would benefit as well. Now, in my current airport industry, when it comes to humanitarian assistance in the workplace, I feel those in leadership and frontline positions are more caring, compassionate, and most importantly “get it”.


CVC: To what do you attribute any positive changes? 

CR: In my experience and opinion, the single largest contributor to the change is because of organizations like the Family Assistance Foundation. FAF has been an industry leader in humanitarian assistance for many years. Beginning with airlines, FAF and its Human Services Response™ model has now expanded to numerous organizations around the world. During my extensive aviation career, the training they provided me, our staff and hundreds of our CARE team members, was second to none, and is still being utilized today.  


CVC: Where do you see the greatest challenges going forward as we try to help companies respond from compassion instead of fear of lawsuits and/or questions about increasing liability by employee response? 
CR: The COVID crisis of 2020 has presented numerous challenges for millions of people around the world. Although many of us have adjusted to self-isolation, telecommuting and virtual activities, it does not substitute for human face-to-face interactions. In so many ways, COVID has done an immeasurable amount of destruction to society, including organizations of all sizes. Although we have seen humanitarian assistance come in many forms, companies will need to continue to adjust and get better accustomed to their “new normal”. As far as virtual employee support, this will take time and will present numerous challenges. 


CVC: Is there anything else you want to say about the need for change? 
CR: Although we live in a mostly compassionate society, we will still encounter “it’s all about me” attitudes from individuals and organizations. Knowledge is power. The more we know and learn about these types of challenges, the better we can react, educate and demonstrate humanitarian approaches that are successful.  


Airports are Crucial to Primary Prevention 
Primary prevention involves lowering the rate of the new cases of mental disorder in a group of people by counteracting harmful circumstances before they have a chance to produce illness. Gerald Caplan, M.D., Preventive Psychiatry[1]       
    The term primary prevention originated as a public health concept for preventing new cases of disease. Gerald Caplan, M.D., is reputed to be the first psychiatrist to apply this model to mental health—and is the basis for the Human Services Response™ approach to training airports and other employee responders on supporting survivors of workplace trauma. In airline accidents as well as other traumatic events that take place inside an airport, all employees become first responders, as they are on the spot of the crisis and interact directly with the public, other employees, contractors, and all who may be impacted.      
    Experienced aviation professionals like Chris Rausch at Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix, AZ have personally experienced the effectiveness of the HSR™ model, i.e., the power that employee responders have to influence the long-term psychological outcome of survivors. In the Foundation’s HSR™ training, which is customized for various industries, employee responders are trained with actual examples where survivors were helped when the organization had a plan for managing the crisis and employees are trained on best practice for supporting the survivors.


The biggest problem in preventive psychiatry is to help “care-taking” people who are on the spot at the moment of the crisis exert their pressure to “tip the balance over to the side of emotional health.”

-Gerald Caplan, M.D.[2]

    Interviews with family survivors of the Colgan/Continental Airlines Flight 3407[3] crash in Buffalo, NY, February 12, 2009 are a major source of testimony in the Foundation’s HSR™ training for airports. These video interviews clearly show what was missing. Pre-planning for a crisis, as well as training the employees who were on the spot, the night of the crash had not happened. While family members of the deceased spoke highly of the Care Team—by the time they flew in the following day and some even later, the initial phase of the crisis was over. Thus, the opportunity for initial connection, crucial to primary prevention was lost.

It was soon obvious that when we took the time needed to care for our employees, and customers, following a traumatic event, our organization would benefit as well.

-Chris Rausch


    Interviews with employee responders who find themselves unprepared for assisting family members of victims of an accident like Colgan/Continental Airlines one mentioned, reveal the toll that working a fatal crash takes on them as well. The enormous stress of working in a crisis environment where panic-stricken family members are demanding information becomes more manageable when employees know their airport’s plan; how to interact with local authorities and other groups who can help them; and how to access other resources that are available to assist them in offering survivor support.


Knowledge is power. The more we know and learn about these types of challenges, the better we can react, educate and demonstrate humanitarian approaches that are successful.

-Chris Rausch


    As a long-term member and supporter of the Family Assistance Foundation, Chris knows more than many people, why research (interviews) used in HSR™ education and training programs is at the heart of our work. The following statements are taken from our website:       

The mission of the Foundation is to help ensure prompt, effective support following crises and disasters involving an organization, its employees and customers, and anyone else affected. We accomplish this objective by:

·  Providing the planning, training, and resources needed for an organization to effectively assist people involved in any crisis or disaster; 
·  Learning what is helpful, and what is not, from the true experts – survivors, family members, responders, and others in the “ripple” that encompasses all who are affected by a tragedy. 

For more about the Foundation and our programs, please contact Cheri Johnson, or visit us at

[1] Caplan, Gerald, (1964), Principles of Preventive Psychiatry, New York: Basic Books

[2] Ibid

[3] Colgan Air/Continental Connection Flight 3407, February 12, 2009. Fifty fatalities including one man on ground.

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