Recovering from Orlando: The role of a critical incident stress team

There’s no level of training as intense as actually responding to a mass casualty incident


By Leischen Stelter, editor of In Public Safety

The June 12 massacre inside an Orlando nightclub left 49 people dead and 53 wounded. After police killed the gunman, officers, firefighters and medical professionals entered the building to provide aid to the wounded. According to news reports, the scene inside was absolute carnage with bodies scattered across the dance floor and in the restrooms. The trauma of the event affected not only those who were in the nightclub that night, but also those who responded.

The Role of a Critical Incident Stress Team
American Military University’s criminal justice program director, Dr. Chuck Russo, lives in Central Florida and was a founding member of his agency’s Critical Incident Stress Team (CIST). He is also the team leader for Florida’s Regional Disaster Behavioral Health Assessment Team. In that role, he oversees psychologists, psychiatrists and social workers, as well as specially trained volunteers, who provide services to first responders following a traumatic incident. Russo was on call for several days following the Orlando incident, ready to provide support to the police officers, firefighters, medical personnel and other first responders who assisted with the gruesome scene.

[Related: Critical Incident Stress Management Interventions Help Heal First Responders]

While Russo’s team was not deployed to assist in Orlando, he has spoken with several colleagues who were involved. “Most people hadn’t seen anything like it before – the only ones who had seen anything similar had been in war,” he said. There’s no level of training as intense as actually responding to a mass casualty incident. “If you’re a police officer long enough, you’re going to come across bodies and the results of violence. Most officers can deal with a certain level of blood and gore, but this exceeded everyone’s normal,” he said. ​

Full story: Recovering from Orlando: The role of a critical incident stress team

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