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Humanitarian Work Psychology



A Role for Organization Psychologists in Disaster Response Efforts

As the East Coast continues to clean up after Hurricane Sandy this holiday season, it is apparent that a great deal of expertise is needed in planning and implementing organizational efforts to aid the victims. In the latest post by SIOP’s Humanitarian Work Psychology bloggers on the SIOP Exchange, blogger Joy Calleja discusses the role of I-O psychologists in disaster management and response efforts such as these.

In her post, Calleja reflects on her personal experience after Typhoon Sendong – the tropical storm that hit the Philippines just before Christmas in 2011.

“More than a thousand lost their lives during the massive flooding brought about by Typhoon Sendong – the tropical storm that hit the Philippine cities of Cagayan de Oro (CDO) and Iligan in 2011,” Calleja explains. “It was a few days before Christmas when the news of Sendong reached those of us living in Manila. With it came web and TV footage of all forms of suffering imaginable.”

Calleja visited the region several times and describes the heartbreaking sights she encountered there. She also explains her role helping those survivors recover and describes how I-Os’ experience can be of great help after disasters like these.

“The main goal of our teams was to conduct Brief Crisis Counseling Workshops for responders (mostly nonpsychologists) who were willing and capable of providing psychological first aid to Sendong survivors,” Calleja explains. “We also aimed to help facilitate the planning of post-disaster organizational initiatives of Xavier University and eventually conduct debriefing sessions for the responders themselves. In the process, the team and I realized the value of our I-O background in being effective responders. As I-O psychologists, we were able to draw on our training in adult education when helping design and facilitate the Brief Crisis Counseling Workshops. In particular, we knew that the workshop had to first consider the general profile of the participants and therefore begin by assessing their different dialects and varying needs and competencies. It was our understanding of organizational systems that helped us realize the importance of preparing a plan for deploying volunteers following the workshop. These two and other hands-on experiences throughout the response efforts brought about new insights on just how important I-O psychologists’ can be in the response process.”

Calleja goes on in her post to describe the specific skills I-O possess that can be translated to disaster response, such as expertise in documenting, planning, and implementing organizational efforts.

“Whether psychologists are part of the organization as human resource practitioners or volunteers, they can facilitate the giving of material and psychosocial support,” she adds. “They can do so during times of great need by increasing the effectiveness of organizational processes, or helping communities and organizations prepare to handle future disasters by designing and facilitating disaster response evaluations – for example, assessing critical incidents to identify opportunities for improvement and adjustment to future disaster response strategies.”

Calleja would like to hear SIOP members’ thoughts and experiences to help build a complete picture of the role I-O can have in disaster management and response efforts. Continue reading her thoughts on this topic in her blog post here, and post your reactions and comments to the Exchange today.

Check back to the Exchange weekly for new posts from SIOP’s bloggers!

About SIOP’s Bloggers

SIOP’s bloggers have been posting since late 2011. This group of members serves as opinion leaders and conversation starters. They contribute regularly to the content of the Exchange on various topics related to the field of I-O psychology, discussing topics as diverse as innovation in organizations, employee well-being, leadership development, legal issues, education and training of students, I-O and sustainability, selection and assessment, entrepreneurship, groups and teams, and women in the workplace.

The SIOP blogger crew is also a diverse one, with Members, Student Affiliates, and Associates from science and practice, working in organizations across the country. For a complete list of SIOP bloggers, visit the blogger profile page on the SIOP Exchange here.

If you have any questions about the SIOP Exchange, please contact the SIOP Electronic Communications Committee Chair Zack Horn at zhorn@aptima.com. For technical questions, contact Stephany Schings Below at sbelow@siop.org. For more information about contributor guidelines, view the Exchange post policy here.