Wednesday Wisdom Series: Lessons Learned from Survivor Speakers, Santiago Chile, September 2018, Part I
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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. 
Lessons Learned from Survivor Speakers, Santiago,
                                Chile, September 2018, Part I 
Wednesday Wisdom Heart 

"The company allowed each family to vote on the artwork to be used in the
design of the memorial.  My choice did not win, but at least I had a chance to
provide my input.
Pablo Alegría, brother of Ximena Alega, who perished in the Germanwings
Flight 9525 tragedy, March 24, 2015, where a total of 150 people perished when the
plane crashed into the French Alps

The next three Wednesday Wisdom publications will be dedicated to lessons that
we learned from survivors who spoke at the Foundation’s September Latin
American Aviation & Transportation Emergency Response Member-Partner
Meeting and Training in Santiago, Chile, co-sponsored by member, LATAM Airlines.
Along with support from LATAM, the meeting was also sponsored by Chile
Interpreters and ACHS (The Chilean Safety Association).
Speakers included Pablo Alega whose sister died in the Germanwings tragedy,
March 24, 2015; Cristina Iglesias, a flight attendant who survived LAPA Flight 3142,
August 31, 1999; Ariel Prado, a customer services agent who assisted families and
friends at the airport where the LAPA accident crashed on takeoff, and Claudia
Cereghino who survived the Machu Picchu rail disaster, April 9, 1994.
Each speaker represented examples of the resilience of survivors and the role that
all helpers played in assisting them, as they moved from “victim” to “survivor.” 
The presentations also reminded us of how much the field of family assistance has
grown and improved since the programs for family assistance for transportation
companies began. And as always, we saw many areas where improvements are
still needed. In addition to writing about some of the learning here and in up-coming
Wednesday Wisdom publications, videos will be available for training in both
English and Spanish.
Germanwings Flight 9525 
Starting with the most recent disaster discussed at the meeting, Pablo Alega
shared the very emotional story about the loss of his sister, Ximena, mother of two.
Positive actions on the part of the company that seemed especially important to his
family included:

    -Assigning the family a team member who not only spoke Spanish but had also
     lived in Chile and understood the culture;
    -Providing the family with the opportunity to vote on the artwork for the memorial;
    -Providing the family with travel and hotel accommodations several times a year
     to attend the site of the tragedy, in addition to the annual memorial services.

As with all disaster responses, there were areas where Pablo felt improvements
could be made. Following are some of the points that particularly stood out for him:

    -It took three days for the company to confirm that his sister was on board the
    -On his initial trip to the site of the tragedy, there were times when his flight was
     not met by an escort and he was unsure of where he was going;
    -The family wanted to purchase flowers for their first site visit, but the special
     assistance team insisted on buying them for the family.

Anyone who has ever worked with families in the aftermath of a disaster knows
too well how enormous the tasks are, from the very beginning and most often, for
weeks to come. Survivors have helped shape the practices many companies follow
today—and stories like Pablo’s is invaluable to all of us who remain students of this
ever-evolving field. 

Wednesday Wisdom Head

"It meant a lot that we were assigned a Special Assistance Team member
who not only spoke Spanish but also had lived in Chile. He understood our
culture and that was really important to our family.
-Pablo Alega, brother of Ximena Alega, who perished in the Germanwings
Flight 9525 tragedy, March 24, 2015, where a total of 150 people perished when the
plane crashed into the French Alps

Listening to Pablo describe his experience in the aftermath of the tragedy reminded
us of the enormous challenges the leadership team in all companies face in those
first few hours of a tragedy and highlights the value of planning, training, exercising,
evaluating, and the importance of learning from our efforts, especially our mistakes. 
At Aviem and the Foundation, we encourage the leadership team within each of our
partners to exercise with us on a regular basis, including loading the manifest and
providing a holding statement that allows us to quickly open the phone lines. We
also stand ready to help make first contact with the families in the event the
company needs assistance with making outbound phone calls—as we understand
from interviews with survivors, the acute anxiety that families like Pablo’s
experienced while they waited to learn about Ximena.
Regardless of whether a company is a member of the Foundation or client of Aviem,
we stand ready to help any organization with two of the crucial areas mentioned in
this family’s story. The Foundation has a large team of members throughout the
world and we will do all we can to find people to meet and greet at various locations
when families are traveling. We have also helped supply team members to
companies who needed a match with regard to language and cultural diversity, as
Germanwings did for Pablo’s family. All survivors feel validated and more connected
to the team members when they are assisted by someone who speaks their
language and has lived or spent time with members of their culture. 
No organization gets every single thing right during a disaster response. The best we
can do is continue to listen to survivors and learn. The next Wednesday Wisdom will
include learning points from other survivors who spoke at the meeting. 

© 2018 Higher Resources, Inc./Aviem International, Inc.
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