Robots Are (Not) People, Too: Protecting the Human Element of Your Recovery Force – Part 2

This is second in a two-article series. Part 1 discussed advances in robotics technology that will aid in future disaster relief efforts, sparing rescue and recovery personnel from certain risks and potential harm. This article continues the topic.

We don’t know how long it will be before robots assume the majority of high-risk rescue, recovery and restoration tasks. And, just as this high-tech reality is evolving and unfolding, inevitable questions arise as to the ramifications and complexities of utilizing artificial intelligence. Prospective employment options will, of course, increasingly point to higher numbers of sophisticated jobs requiring experience and skill in using computerized technology, as well as knowledge of how it is designed, operated and controlled. This is certainly an interesting time for human beings, living in such an increasingly high-tech reality. But for now (and at least until then), it is still decidedly the human element that ultimately perseveres, and that must ultimately be appreciated and protected to the very best of our ambitions and abilities.

Just as robotics technology has grown exponentially, available educational awareness, training and methods toward effective preventive and post-crisis care have expanded greatly in recent years. The focus on the issue of resilience for crisis and disaster victims, as well as preventive resilience training for disaster and recovery personnel is becoming a much-explored, appreciated and discussed aspect.

To help insure that your workforce will safely endure exposure to high stress levels and other potential health and safety concerns, it is wise to especially consider employees who face ongoing milder forms of risk exposure, as well as those who encounter high levels of potential risk and impact. Examine various methods to mediate and mitigate their particular risk exposure, and arm them in advance with the best possible preparedness and safety tools for the organization’s particular field of work and service.

Personnel Resilience Checkpoints

  • In advance, establish appropriate crisis communication planning for internal and external crisis event notification, including detailed contingency alternatives, ongoing notification, and next-steps scenarios.
  • Prepare, promote, and practice your plans through up-to-date training and awareness programs.
  • Be sure to maintain ongoing emergency training and reviews for employees, such as fire drills, workplace violence education, biohazard training, and the like.
  • Facilitate certified emergency response training for employees who will be exposed, directly or indirectly, in high hazard and risk situations (e.g., First Aid, CPR, PFA and First Response Safety training).
  • Explore and invest in both existing and emerging technologies, tools and processes that protect workers from undue risk and harm.

Essential Recommendations for Post-Crisis Employee Care

  • Ensure post-crisis evaluative screenings to determine not only physical, but emotional and psychological health needs of exposed and affected employees.
  • Create temporary-duty teams to coordinate and assist during a crisis-event transition.
  • Enlist and make available professional psychological assistance as needed; e.g., to help employees set expectations for themselves and others (family members, friends, employer, coworkers) and to help ensure supportive care while recovering from distress, harm, grief and/or loss.
  • Educate about self-care initiatives. Help to facilitate and encourage this awareness on an ongoing basis. 

As always, take advantage of expert resources of current health and safety information specific to the types of risk situations faced by your workforce. Some may outline detailed preventive care, while others can arm your organization with information about providing optimal post-crisis employee care. An outline for care and screening that is specific to storm, flood and hurricane response workers, for example, is available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Click here for the CDC’s article titled, “STORM, FLOOD AND HURRICANE RESPONSE: Guidance for Post-exposure medical screening of workers leaving hurricane disaster recovery areas.”)

Note to readers: The 2014 International Crisis and Risk Communication (ICRC) Conference took place in March in Orlando. The topic of the human element in crisis was explored in a variety of workshops, lectures and discussions. More than 150 experts in crisis, disaster and risk gathered to share insights on this important topic, and a key theme throughout the event was resilience: what it means, how to create and foster it, and how to help communicate resilience skills to others. The theme for the 2015 ICRC Conference, set for March 2-4, 2015, is “Accountability, Metrics and Critique.” You can learn more about the next conference at: http://communication.cos.ucf.edu/icrc/about.

About the Author: Robert C. Chandler, Ph.D.
Dr. Robert C. Chandler is a Professor of Communication and Director of the Nicholson School of Communication at the University of Central Florida (UCF) where he leads the Center for Crisis Communication. He is an internationally recognized professional speaker and social scientific researcher with more than 150 academic and professional papers based on his research of crisis communication, leadership, teamwork, decision making, and psychometric variables during emergency and crisis communication.