Wednesday Wisdom Series: Myth#7- “To ensure a realistic emergency response exercise or practice drill, should role-players be encouraged to show anger and aggression toward the company responders?”
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Here is your bi-monthly Wednesday Wisdom series from the Family Assistance
Foundation, reminding you that a fully-integrated approach for assisting survivors of
traumatic loss involves a balance of head and heart. Wednesday Wisdom is written
and copyrighted by Carolyn V. Coarsey, Ph.D. and distributed by the Family
Assistance Education & Research Foundation Inc., Reprint is available
with written permission from the Foundation. 

Myth #7 – "To ensure a realistic emergency response
exercise or practice drill, should role-players be
encouraged to show anger and aggression toward
the company responders?"

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“During the telephonic role-plays in our annual emergency response exercise,
I was so humiliated in front of my peers that I cried.”                               

– An executive who took role-play calls during an emergency training exercise

It is unfortunate that role players acting the part of survivors in corporate emergency
response exercises are often encouraged to display extreme anger, and in some
cases, downright rage. The belief that anger should be the primary emotion
demonstrated by role-players to ensure a realistic emergency exercise
role-play is a myth

This myth is based on a misconception: that anger is the dominant emotion toward
company helpers in the initial phase of crisis. Experience shows that when the
organization’s employee team responds swiftly and compassionately, the emotions
of terrified survivors and family members often evolve to gratitude and relief.
In fact, their emotions usually bypass anger altogether!

Exercises should be designed to enable personnel to realistically practice the
roles they will play in a real emergency potential response. This involves simulating
how they will interact with teammates and other agency personnel and, where
appropriate, gaining experience in interacting with members of the public, i.e.,
survivors. This must be accomplished in a safe environment. When company
responders are humiliated by unrealistic badgering, as in the example provided,
during what should be a learning opportunity for all, valuable company time is
wasted and team members are unnecessarily hurt. This obviously undermines the
objectives of conducting the exercise and degrades readiness because
participants will understandably dread the possibility of fulfilling their role in
a real crisis.

Effective role-plays should include having actors display realistic emotions that
are common during the shock and dissociation phase of trauma. These include,
but are not limited to, confusion; disbelief; denial; fear; anxiety; and feelings of
helplessness, hopelessness, and powerlessness. Practicing handling these realistic
emotions and responding to the challenges faced by families early during
traumatic experiences, while interacting with the organization’s team, provide
true educational opportunities as well as training which will bolster teamwork,
another major factor in effective post-trauma response.

Realistic role-plays also enable responders to experience how the bond we at the
Foundation call the “kinship of sorrow” begins to materialize between people who
are desperately seeking help and those who are doing their best to provide it.  

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Exercise designers/planners would do well to familiarize themselves with a basic
learning concept, the Yerkes-Dodson Law (1908).  Frequently shown as a
bell-shaped curve, the law shows that learning and performance of a task declines
when arousal (emotion) increases beyond a certain point. While it is necessary to
provide a degree of reality for responders to learn and remember the experience,
increasing emotion to the point where the exercise itself becomes a trauma is
counter-productive – especially when those emotions are based on a myth.
Efforts should be made to provide realistic opportunities for teammates to practice
in a safe environment, which is the best way to promote task competence,
communication, and team spirit.

© 2017 Higher Resources, Inc./Aviem International, Inc.
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