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Westminster attack: how we help after an emergency

23 March 2017

In the moments after a major incident, the commotion and trauma can be overwhelming. For survivors and witnesses, sometimes what they need most is someone who will listen to them.

British Red Cross emergency response volunteers are trained to provide practical and emotional support to people in the wake of an emergency.

At the request of the Metropolitan Police, Red Cross volunteers provided support in a reception centre in Westminster Abbey after Wednesday’s attack.

Simple actions such as chatting over a cup of tea can make a huge difference in the emotional wellbeing of those who have experienced a major shock.

A calming and comforting influence

“Everyone is affected by a crisis in a different way and clearly Wednesday’s incident was very traumatic for people who witnessed it,” said Simon Lewis, British Red Cross head of crisis response.

“There was a lot of commotion in the area, which can aggravate things in people’s minds and add to the fear.

“Our role is to reassure people, give them emotional support and help comfort them. Whether that’s holding their hand, providing a listening ear, or giving them shelter, our volunteers are trained to help.

“It’s worth noting that some of those affected yesterday were tourists. Because we’re a global organisation, people know the Red Cross and we’re a comforting and trusted sight.”

While the events at Westminster were a major incident, Red Cross emergency response teams help people caught up in emergencies every day.

“The support we give to a family who have just seen their home burn down, and the support we provided yesterday in Westminster, are actually very similar,” added Simon.

“That’s what our volunteers and staff do on a daily basis.”

Red Cross emergency response volunteers have now finished their work at the reception centre.

Overseas emergency support

As part of our collaboration with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Red Cross also sends trained psychosocial support volunteers to help British nationals overseas in the event of an emergency.

Examples of when psychosocial volunteers have been sent overseas include: the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami; the 2005 Pakistan earthquake; the 2013 Kenya Westgate shopping centre attack; the 2015 Tunisia attack; and last year’s Brussels attack.

Psychosocial refers to psychological and social factors. Psychological factors include thoughts, feelings and behaviours. Social factors include relationships and the environment.

“It’s about letting those affected know they have not been forgotten and that there’s somebody there to support them and to put them in touch with friends and family,” said Dr Sarah Davidson, head of psychosocial support at the British Red Cross.

“Having listened to them and enabled them to get in touch with loved ones, we might also give them information about what to expect in the coming days and weeks and where to get further help.”

To help psychosocial volunteers deal with the aftermath of trauma, they follow an approach known as CALMER:

Consider

Acknowledge

Listen

Manage

Enable

Resource

As well as being a reminder of the need for responders to remain calm, it also provides a cue to follow six sequential stages in any response.

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