CERC @ Work: Take Good Care of Yourself

Stylized words,

Crisis and Emergency Risk Communication (CERC) principles should be considered in all crisis communication plans…but what do they look like in a real emergency? CERC @ Work offers a glimpse of how these principles are put into practice.

In recent years we have seen long-duration public health emergency responses.  CDC’s Joint Information Center has been operating in response mode for over 775 consecutive days since its activation of the Ebola response from July 9, 2014 – March 31, 2016 and its overlapping response to Zika starting on January 22, 2016. Many public information officers, emergency officials, and other emergency responders have also been actively responding to these threats for long stretches, as well as the many other threats that face their jurisdictions. The nature of the Zika virus’s transmission and health effects indicate the need to actively counter the disease spread and its health impact for several months to come.  Mosquito season is just beginning and birth outcomes would not be seen for at least 9 months to follow. There is a lot we still don’t know about Zika and some of the research could take years. It is the responsibility of health communicators to inform the public and partners such as clinicians and vector control specialists, of all scientific findings as they happen.

Working in an emergency response where every minute and every word is critical, can be stressful and taxing.  Working with this momentum and pressure for a long time can lead to responder fatigue and mistakes.  It’s important to take steps to prevent, recognize, and address burnout in yourself and in your peers in order to maintain high quality effective emergency and risk communication.    

Here are some indicators of burn out:

  • Secondary traumatic stress- stress reactions from exposure to another person’s traumatic event.
  • Feeling exhausted, irritable, depressed, or overwhelmed.
  • Isolating from others.
  • Feeling like a failure or feeling guilty that you are unable to “do enough” or to help.
  • Believing you are the only one who can do your job and not allowing others to share your work burden.

Some things you and your teammates can do to prevent and address burn out are:

  • Set up shifts and limit individual working hours. The news cycle is 24 hours but no human can or should be expected to work 24 hours.
  • Remind yourself and your team that it is not selfish to take breaks.
  • Work together to designate tasks and rolls and to share the workload.
  • Avoid working alone.
  • Maintain health sleep, eating, and exercise habits.
  • Know when to set boundaries and say “no” to an assignment when you feel you may be too fatigued or not the appropriate person to carry out the task. Always offer to find someone else who can complete the action instead.

Taking care of yourself will help you take care of others and do your job.  It is not selfish and it will strengthen your agency’s capabilities to stay ahead of emerging events and communicate effectively throughout a long term response. The risk communication needs may change over time but the public expects and deserves the same quality of communication throughout.

For more information on CERC visit our website and check out the CERC manual. You can also read previous CERC Corners.

Have you used CERC in your work? To share your CERC stories, e-mail cercrequest@cdc.gov. Your stories may appear in future CERC Corners.

Page last reviewed: March 23, 2017 (archived document)