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Every security licensee in Australia needs to have an in-date first aid certification to be able to be employed as a guard. This is for good reason, of course, as security guards are often the first on scene after an accident or incident. This is even more apparent when we look at those employed in executive protection: if the principal is assaulted, or involved in a motor vehicle accident, or even just slips on a wet set of stairs, the EPO is going to be the first person able to apply first aid. The first aid qualifications required by state licensing authorities generally cover performing CPR, applying basic life saving techniques, and applying first aid.
But what about our mental wellbeing?
Who considers how being involved in an accident or other traumatic incident (even, in some executives’ cases, the trauma of being threatened or harassed by protestors or agitators) can affect the client? As the Red Cross defines it, psychological first aid is an approach to helping people affected by an emergency, disaster or traumatic event. To note, psychological first aid is not a post-incident debriefing, nor is it counselling. At Mindset, our principal psychologist, Dr Melissa Harries leads in the development and delivery to our guards and EPOs an industry-leading psychological first aid program, as well as providing training and education support to our clients and their staff.
The key elements in the early application of psychological first aid are essential responses to any security incident – ensure the person is safe by removing them from, or reducing exposure to harm, and render any first aid/emergency medical treatment necessary. Providing accurate and repeated information about how the situation is being handled, or what is happening next, is also key.
As an executive protection operator, or indeed any security professional, a major element of your role is to promote calm. In fact a major part of training combat leaders in the Army is to help them learn to stay calm in chaos – it builds the perception that you are in control, and that nothing’s going wrong. Even if it is, even if you have no idea what’s happening, you need to reinforce the calm professional. Look back at the last point: accurate and repeated information – by communicating information or instructions effectively, repeatedly, and calmly, we build trust and confidence in our ability. This promotes an environment for people to ease their recovery from a traumatic event. Another easy way of building and maintaining this operational calm is to remind people that there is more help on the way, or that you’re taking them to get help. You should only say this so long as that is what is actually happening – don’t lie to them as this is certain to erode any trust you have built.
In an event where trauma or other overwhelm may be present, we advance our cause in psychological first aid by promoting self-efficacy. Simply put, this is a person believing that their actions are leading to positive outcomes, and that they are in control of helping themselves. A common example of this used in many first-aid training scenarios is assigning people to crowd-control, or sending them to alert others/gather equipment etc. This feeling of “doing something to help” aides in eliminating the victim mentality – most people find that when they have a job or duty to take care of, they instinctively become more resilient to traumatic influences.
Another essential in traumatic situations, or when considering psychological first aid, is that we as security professionals keep promoting hope – be mindful of your language: instead of “if we get back home”, try: “when we are back at home...” communicating in the positive future tense is another subtle way to help eliminate doubt and fear.
If a person wants to discuss their experiences, it is useful to provide them with support. But this should only be in a way that does not push them to discuss more than they want. The first priority is reducing the effect of whatever event your client is going through.
In a continuous feedback loop, as we provide information to the person at risk, we need to keep listening to what they need. While this may sound obvious, it is easy to lose track of in the raised tempo of a traumatic incident – take the time to listen for cues from those you’re helping during the action, and when you’ve reached safety, be prepared to find out “where their head’s at”.
Some people will adopt a “Receive Only” mode, often characterised by wide eyes, non-verbal or very abrupt responses to questions, and waiting for specific directions. Others may become hyper-conversive, rapidly talking about whatever comes to their mind in an attempt to make sense of the overwhelm. The key is to work to whatever works for your client.
It is important to remember that it’s not helpful – and may indeed be harmful – to harangue someone to talk about what happened to them if they do not want to. You should, of course, be prepared to provide them with support, and let them talk about what happened when they are ready to. The aim will remain to support the person out of the immediate danger, while minimising the immediate impact of the trauma.
The final stages of psychological first aid involve linking the subject to their regular support networks, or helping to establish them if none exist. This may involve writing and submitting detailed incident reports to the clients’ own counsellors or helping them to go through the steps with their GP to access appropriate counselling support. Mindset Securities works in concert with our partner psychology organisation, Mindset Abilities, to ensure all our EPOs are not only trained in psychological first aid, but also have the resources and partnerships to quickly make the links to further support as required. This partnership has always been important to us – many companies offering executive/close protection/bodyguard services are focused on the “glamour” side of the business – luxury cars and looking the part. We drive a little deeper, we train our EPOs to ensure they’re capable in the lead up, conduct, and wrap up of your security needs.
These basic principles outline the skills and knowledge that help set our guards and EPOs apart. Consider the benefits of a well-trained Psychological-First Aid responder in escorting you or the people you care about, especially when we consider the needs of minors you may need protected.
Are you a security professional? Do your guards have all the tools they could need to make an incident less traumatic for the innocent people involved?
This has been a brief look at the guiding principles of psychological first aid – if you would like to learn more, call or email us to start a consultation with our experts.
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