Responding to emergencies and crisis situations

How do you respond appropriately to emergencies and crises according to organisational procedures and in accordance with duty of care?

Urgency of need may be determined by clients themselves, or through observations of clients made by support workers or other staff. Observations which may indicate urgency of need include:

  • disorientation in person, time and place
  • inability to communicate
  • incoherence in speech
  • signs of physical injury or distress
  • extreme anxiety
  • verbal or physical aggression
  • self-injury
  • suggestion of suicide.

While it is important to remain calm and speak in reassuring tones to settle a distressed or anxious client, it is also important to recognise when personal safety, or the safety of others, is at risk and take action to avoid harm. Most agencies will have a manual that outlines how workers are to respond to crises and other client emergencies. The manual should also contain processes for prioritising the steps to take.

All organisations will have a contingency plan or crisis management plan to deal with such situations. Each agency is likely to have very clear Workplace Health and Safety guidelines in place to ensure that workers are practising in a safe way and know what they need to do in a situation that is potentially dangerous for themselves and/or others.

Domestic violence

Domestic violence can include physical, sexual or emotional abuse. Domestic violence does not resolve itself. If the abused partner fears for their safety, or for the safety of their children, it is important to support them to leave the situation immediately. Immediate help may include:

  • contacting ambulance or medical practitioner
  • contacting the police
  • refuge placement
  • child protection strategies.

Child protection

Sometimes the emergency or crisis will relate to notifications about child abuse or a young person in a dangerous situation. The following checklist will give you ideas about how to respond appropriately to crises relating to notifications of this type, in line with organisational procedures.

What are the immediate risks to the child/young person?
What is the level of risk to the child/young person?
What are the immediate needs of the child/young person?

Other crises for clients

In working with clients in crisis you are aiming to:

  • support the client to move out of the crisis phase as soon as possible
  • provide individual and agency support
  • mobilise the client’s own support systems
  • use outside supports as required.

Timing is all important

Establishing the time frame under which you need to operate is a major consideration. This means that after identifying the level of risk you may need to respond immediately or you may need to proceed more slowly. Factors that may require immediate response may be:

  • removing the client from their environment
  • seeking urgent medical attention
  • finding an interim place to stay.

The policies and procedures in your agency, your supervisor (if available) and your own assessment skills are what you are most likely to draw on in the moment to use response strategies appropriate to each crisis situation that presents itself in your work with distressed clients.

Of course, there will be times when the appropriate response to a crisis is for you to immediately contact emergency services.

Contacting and using appropriate emergency services

There are times when a crisis requires you to get help from emergency services. Identified below are emergency services and possible crises where it is appropriate for you to contact one or more of them.

Where there is/or likely to be a threat of violence, safety is at risk or a crime has been committed, call the Police. Where there is physical injury, an accident, serious illness or a drug overdose, call the Ambulance.

If you have a telephone available, you can contact emergency services by telephoning 000. If you have the necessary equipment, you can also radio emergency services for help.

Check your legal responsibilities and your agency protocols so that you know when to use emergency services. Not only do you need to know when this is necessary, you also need to know what is expected of you. For instance, imagine your client has been seriously injured by another family member. If you are trained in first aid, you could apply basic first aid until the ambulance arrives.

Of course, there will be times when the appropriate response to a crisis is for you to immediately contact emergency services.

Last modified: Monday, 14 October 2013, 12:09 PM