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Ten tips for crisis support – by Jude Benton

June 10th, 2020

I’ve learned a lot this year about support from others during a crisis. If you hadn’t thought of these things when helping someone out, don’t feel guilty. We can all continue to learn how to support others in future.

1. People in crisis are unable to process information properly.

Brains are running on high adrenaline during a crisis, which narrows the human focus to what is immediately essential for survival. Almost everything else will be forgotten.

2. The basics may not be re-established for some time.

After the Mallacoota fire, I had no power at home for 18 days. There was only a gas hob to cook on, torches at night and a rapidly defrosting fridge/ freezer. I couldn’t use the washing machine, have a hot shower or charge devices at home. Roads were closed, supermarket supplies were running low, I had to wear a mask outside because of the smoke, and the garage and backyard were burnt and a twisted pile of wreckage.

3. Admin is not a priority for the first few weeks.

Adrenaline calls for action, not admin. In Mallacoota, my partner and I worked from dawn until dusk despite the challenges. Admin was extremely difficult anyway: one mobile network crashed for three weeks, and without power at home I had to go to the church to charge my laptop. The first time I was able to log on, I waited more than 24 hours to download all of the incoming email.

4. Keep the phone line clear.

Imagine a parallel relationship between the length of time you’ve known a person and how close your relationship is, and then translate that into how long it should be before you phone them. A month on, the person will be more appreciative of your call than in the first few days or weeks.

5. Restrict professional contact to business hours.

None of us – and especially exhausted disaster workers – enjoy being rung by strangers about work issues at home at 9 pm on a Saturday night. People in disaster need rest, time to recover, and the opportunity to communicate with family and friends.

6. Give money, not goods.

Australia is a wealthy country, with a government and organisations that provide essential goods for relief in the immediate period after a disaster. A second disaster can happen as well-meaning people deliver more and more food, clothing and other goods, which become unnecessary and require exhausted volunteers to spend hours sorting and even redistributing to other communities.

7. Give money with an open hand.

If you choose to give, trust that the receiving person or organisation will use it wisely. Requests for money to be put to specific uses can undermine what a church’s role is in a disaster – to be there for all people. We are truly grateful to those who gave generously and with open hands, allowing us to ensure that ministry could be maintained through this period as well as using funds to bless the community for the long term.

8. Recovery is a marathon, not a sprint.

Imagine walking through a swamp – that’s how a post-crisis brain operates. It takes three to six months before the post-adrenaline exhaustion begins to wear off and for normal creativity and reasoning to be reestablished. Offers of assistance may initially be rejected as they seem too complicated, but later on offers will be accepted. Be patient. Give space and allow for changes of mind.

9. Ask before a group visit.

A traumatised community is a sensitive and emotional being. They need space and time to be alone, to relive and retell the stories, and to grieve together. Wait three to four months before beginning to talk about bringing a group to a disaster zone, and at least six months before actually doing it. And when you arrive, don’t take photos of the damage.

10. Prayer is powerful; pray for the people.

The expression ‘held in the prayers of the people’ was very true to me over the immediate fire response. I felt out of my depth, exhausted, and so busy that prayer was elusive, yet in all this I felt closer to God and more held in the prayers of others than I’ve ever felt before. Pray for wisdom, health, energy, compassion and the courage to keep going.

The Rev’d Jude Benton is Priest-in-Charge at the Cooperating Parish of Croajingolong. She was present and continued working through the Mallacoota/Cann River bushfires last summer.