In almost all crisis situations, the scene activity is localized to a defined area and out of public view. A traffic fatality immediately becomes a public event. For the responder the “customer” base expands exponentially.
After parking a safe distance from the scene as not to impede on scene units or units still arriving, report to the authority in charge and determine their immediate assistance needs. While going from your vehicle to the scene commander, observe all the people who may be involved or a witness to the incident. Vehicles stopped but not directly involved in the accident, patrons and employees of area businesses, or pedestrian bystanders may all experience some level of trauma from what they just witnessed.
The needs that will require attention will vary from scene to scene. Usually the initial assignment will be to provide immediate grief support to those who have been directly involved in the accident.
Pay Immediate Attention To Those Involved
If there are injuries involved, medical help will be attending to those injured so focus on those who are emotionally rattled. If there are serious injuries or a fatality, as a crisis responder you will be required to quickly triage the remaining accident victims and determine who is indicating an immediate critical need for emotional first aid. For example, if a driver ran a stop light that resulted in the death of a passage or driver of another vehicle their level of anxiety and grief will be extreme.
Determine who wants to contact friends or family and assist them in making the calls as necessary. Remember, avoid doing or having another victim do a death notification by phone. If a death notification is to be carried out, no initial phone call concerning the accident should be made. Establish, when possible, if someone is at home and proceed with a police officer to the residence. If no one is home, speak with the neighbors only indicating that there has been an accident and you need to get in touch with the family member. Do they know where there are now, etc. If asked if the victim is OK, respond at unfortunately, you can’t go into the details until you speak with the husband, wife, mother, etc.
If victims are to be transported to a hospital or medical facility establish which patient, by name, is being transported and where. This information will have to be conveyed to family or friends who will want to respond to the hospital.
While a lower priority than those involved directly, inquiries should be made as to how other witnesses are feeling and address their reactions to what they have just viewed. These secondary participants may experience almost if not the same trauma as those directly involved directly.
Observe any children who may be present and witnessed the crash. If possible once the immediate needs of those involved are addressed a short interaction with the children would be useful in reducing the fear they are expressing. A fear that the same thing may happen to them.
Beyond the question of did you see the accident don’t make inquiries as to the details. Details are to be referred to the officers on scene, if and as necessary.
For more information concerning the process of Crisis Response Management, watch for LESSON #15 – Suicide.