We Are One

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Written by: Jennifer Sanford*, Propellus Consultant

Over the last few days, we have watched the wildfires in Fort McMurray gain international attention. The numbers are staggering: more than 80,000 people were evacuated, 1,600 homes and business have been destroyed, more than 50 million dollars in aid has been received by the Red Cross. And the true cost of this environmental event will take years to fully materialize.

And, unsurprisingly, we’ve all banded with our neighbours and friends in Fort McMurray. Much like the Southern Alberta floods and Slave Lake fires, we, as Albertans, see ourselves as one. While tragic and sad as the event unfolding is, we should also feel incredibly proud of how intrinsically individuals, service groups, leaders and businesses understand that supporting our own is just part of who we are.

After all, welcome to Alberta, where helping is in our DNA.

But it’s also natural to feel other feelings. And in your offices right now, you may have members of your team that are feeling very serious feelings about what’s happening in Fort McMurray. Whether you once called Northern Alberta home, or you reside near open forested areas, or quite simply, you’re terrified of something like this happening to you – we have to acknowledge that these fears – and their accompanying stress – are very real. But let’s face it, if you’re feeling these feelings, chances are you might not know what to do with them. After all, it’s hard to feel worry or stress or panic when so many others are dealing with what may be the devastation of their community.

But your feelings about this event ARE valid. And having a safe place to address them is a tremendous way to show a little self-care and compassion for your peers and staff. Not to mention the long-term organizational culture-impact that comes from bringing your team together at this difficult time.

Consider taking 30 minutes to hold what’s called a critical incident stress debriefing. I like to think of it as a pulse check around the office. It involves sitting together and inviting your team to talk openly, without judgement, about our feelings and thoughts about what’s happened. Cell phones off. No distractions. Just a group gathered together better understand that what you’re feeling are normal reactions to an abnormal situation.

As a leader in your organization, you can facilitate this. It is as simple as a few guided questions:

  • What are your thoughts about what’s happening?
  • What signs and symptoms have you been feeling? What can we do to channel these feelings into productive and positive actions?
  • What can you do – and what can we do as a team – for self-care?

Providing an outlet for those that don’t know what to do with their feelings is a tremendous way to support your community here at home.

If this task seems daunting, contact Propellus and we can arrange a certified critical incident professional to lead this for you.

Be safe out there.


*Jennifer Sanford is an emergency management and communications professional. As the Managing Partner of Open Door Communications and a Propellus Consultant, she specializes in the unique needs of the non-profit sector. As a member of the American Academic of Experts in Traumatic Stress and a board-certified leadership coach, Jennifer believes in a people-first approach to business.

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