Critical Incident Stress Management and the Emergency Manager

Emergency Managers’ role during an incident requires that decision-making is done under various levels of stress. Emergency Managers experience stress like that of traditional first responders. However, they must operate under additional pressures in complex coordination, fluid response efforts, varying levels of professionals, and political influence. Additionally, decision-making is often required to be made with little or incomplete information. The concern and stress related to unintentional negative outcomes further muddle the decision-making process. The potential effects of stress-causing health issues are quite real. Fortunately, there are actions to offset and mitigate negative effects.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, and subsequent ongoing response, research showed that Emergency Managers and staff experienced a host of mental and physical health issues, including PTSD, anxiety, depression, heart disease, stroke, and hypertension, to name a few. It is logical to assume that in post-COVID-19 response research and surveys that an increase of these issues will be reported.

For decades, Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) has been in place to provide military combat veterans, and ultimately civilian first responders (police, fire, ambulance, emergency workers, and disaster rescuers), with a crisis intervention protocol for those who experienced trauma. CISM utilizes techniques by trained professionals (usually in the same field as those needing assistance) to include inner dialogue, coping, debriefing, defusing, and pre-crisis education.


Moving forward, recommendations will be made that will include, at a minimum, passing legislation that classifies Emergency Managers as a “high-risk” occupation population. Also recommended is that a statewide team of trained Emergency Managers be assembled and ready for deployment throughout the jurisdictions as needed, either by request or as a courtesy check during, or following, an incident that impacts the state or any of the jurisdictions within the state.

In an upcoming issue of the newsletter, we will further explore the risks to mental and physical health to Emergency Managers, current issues that Emergency Managers are contending with during the COVID-19 response, potential negative impacts to the individuals and the profession as a whole, and recommendations to mitigate the challenges Emergency Managers are facing.