Special Assistance Team Challenges
We cannot emphasize enough how important properly trained Special Assistance Team (SAT) members are to a crisis response. As the first point of contact for many people after an incident, SAT members are expected to act and work at the highest professional standard and do so in an empathetic manner.
If becoming a SAT member is something you’re interested in but are curious to know what situations you may face, below are examples of challenges faced by SAT members. Read over each situation and contemplate how you would handle it.
The names of the family members and Kenyon Team Members are fictitious.
1. Jane Foster’s son has severe food allergies to items on the menu for dinner and Mr. and Mrs. Badan from India are in need of a special vegetarian menu.
2. You have finished setting up the Family Assistance Center (FAC) at the hotel and have just received an email from the Kenyon International Call Center (KICC) notifying you that there are approximately 56 family members due to arrive at your airport at 9:00 p.m. (local time).
3. The electrical capacity of the operation center is not sufficient enough to handle all of the equipment. The hotel says there is nothing that can be done to fix it.
4. Michael Ford, a SAT Member, has just received a message from his wife about a family emergency. He says that he must return home immediately.
5. Molly Reed, a 5-year-old girl, is at the FAC with her mother. Her father was involved in the accident and is in critical condition at the hospital. Molly has been found wandering around the hotel by herself several times.
6. Several family members have complained that they have overheard hotel employees discussing things they heard about the accident on the news. This upsets the family members.
7. A family member invited you back to their hotel room as they are feeling lonely and would like company. They also suggest that perhaps, while there, you can have a drink together to ease the stresses of the day.
8. You noticed that a fellow Team Member appears to not be eating and they have mentioned to you that they are not sleeping very well. On top of this, they seem to be getting forgetful and clumsy. They have worked really hard for the last week and have now begun to show aggression to other Team Members.
9. A family from Indonesia has requested cremation of their loved one’s remains and they want to spread their ashes into the sea in a special religious ceremony with no press present.
10. Jim Walters and his brother, Phil, have lost their father. Both will be staying at the hotel, but they do not get along and do not want to be near each other. They request different rooms, different SAT Members and individual information for each one.
Death and serious injury are uncomfortable subjects for many and when survivors and family members reach out to discuss these topics, SAT members must know how to do more than listen to what is being said, they need to know how to respond.
Choosing your words carefully can comfort the grieving person without further upsetting them.
Phrases to avoid:
“I know how you’re feeling” or “I know what you are going through.”
People process the effects of death or a crisis differently. You do not know how they are feeling or what they are going through. While you may have had a similar experience, everyone is different. This can seem incredibly insensitive to someone who is grieving. Better responses would be “I can’t imagine how difficult this must be for you” or “This must be overwhelming and confusing” or “I understand what you are saying.”
“You’ll feel better soon.”
A person in grief will take their own time to deal with their feelings. This is an important part of recovery. Soon is a relative term, some people will never feel better.
“You can always remarry or have another baby.”
This one seems obvious, right? However, we can all slip up and say something that we did not intend to sound insensitive. This is one to definitely avoid. Yes, the expectation is that family and friends will go on to lead their lives after this loss, but it will be on their terms. They will decide what is appropriate for them and when.
“At least he/she did not suffer.”
Sometimes the circumstances of the death of their loved one may indicate they died quickly and there was no suffering. Other times we may not have all of the information to make an informed opinion. Regardless, we must never minimize the loss for the person grieving. If we have information regarding the circumstances of the death and are asked for the information, we can share it. If you do not know the information they are asking about, inform them you will do everything you can to find out and get back to them.
“Everything happens for a reason.”
For whatever the reason the loss occurred, saying the above phrase would not make a difference or be helpful during the initial stages of grief for the families. We are tasked to assist with addressing their immediate need for information and guiding them through what they can do in this tragic situation. Having an empathetic ear is critical, but most importantly, you should be a knowledge source for families about the system they are trying to navigate.
“Time heals all wounds.”
We avoid this phrase for the same reason we never use the word “closure.” Their loss will forever have an impact on their life, and we know there will always be an absence where their loved one used to be. In the immediate aftermath of a loss, we can instead give them information on self-care and available services (if needed).
“You are so lucky you survived.”
A surviving family member will likely be overwhelmed with the recent news and events; they surely won’t be feeling lucky to be in the situation. People in a state of crisis are literal thinkers, so whatever you say will be taken seriously.
“Let me know if you need anything.”
Be proactive instead of passively offering help. Bring them a glass of water, a meal or a tissue. Do not just offer assistance, give it to them.
“Let’s go have a drink to calm you down.”
Alcohol exacerbates emotions and is not an effective coping strategy. If the family member you are working with is experiencing extreme distress and needs medical or mental health intervention to deal with the grief, we can arrange further assistance.
“You should get started on planning the funeral.”
There are likely many actions that must be completed before a funeral can be planned. In some cases, the family member may want to start planning the funeral or memorial service, but become further distressed to discover that it may take longer than they expect to receive their loved one’s remains. Work with the incident response team to better understand reasonable timelines and help the family member understand so they can establish their own timeline.
You want to be a good listener. Sometimes just sitting in silence is enough for the family member. Your responsibilities as a SAT Member are to:
Finally, understand the different psychological states you and the family member will experience and how those will differ. Your need to help and their need to be helped have very different meanings and priorities. Not all families will require or want the same level of care; therefore, approach each family with that consideration in mind. Our support is focused on empathy and empowering families through a difficult time. We don’t want to “victimize” the families, however, nor do we want to provide so much support that when it is withdrawn there is further trauma and loss experienced.