NATCA CISM Provides Valuable Service to Members
Friday, May 18, 2012
Recently, NATCA Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) Team Lead Tom Morin (ZBW) wrote an article for a publication of the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation. We have reprinted it below, as it provides an informative update on the NATCA CISM program as well as a history of the important services provided to the NATCA membership:
CISM for the Air Traffic Controllers of the United States and its Territories.
Aviation is a bustling industry; People and cargo flying across the US and the world. Here in the US, aviation supports over 10 million jobs and accounted for 5.2 percent of the US gross domestic product in 2011 according to the FAA. All commercial air traffic ends up in the hands of the air traffic controller. There are thousands of flights per day, every day and at every hour of the day. There are also thousands of private aircraft populating the smaller airports throughout the United States. Of these airports, more than 350 are staffed by air traffic controllers. And there is also airspace to safely maintain over every area of the United States, adjacent oceans and US territories. There are over 400 facilities that house air traffic controllers that help keep aviation safe. And despite all this activity, aviation remains the safest means of travel. And as of this writing, aviation has never been safer or more reliable.
Despite aviation’s stellar record, there are still incidents, accidents and fatalities that happen with regularity. Most all of these fatal incidents have been on the private side of aviation and has not involved a commercial passenger flight since 2009 when a Colgan Air Dash 8 (Q400) crashed on approach to Buffalo that February. Despite the impressive safety record of commercial aviation, our CISM Team responds regularly to aviation incidents with fatalities with an average of about one per week.
Our Team has been in operation since January of 1995 after an infrastructure was established and peers (union) and administrators (management) were trained. (NATCA is the exclusive bargaining unit that represents air traffic controllers here in the U.S.) We discovered the ICISF shortly after our initial training and retrained our team with them in April of 1996 and have been affiliated ever since. The NATCA CISM Team currently consists of 13 trained air traffic controllers nationwide with two more trained peers joining the team very soon. Of those 13, 4 team members volunteer every fourth week to answer the phone and coordinate responses to each incident that occurs that week. We are responsible for caring for a workforce of 16,000 air traffic controllers. And because aviation is so safe, we are always capable of providing an appropriate response and support even during times of simultaneous events.
There is much more that our team provides other than support after a fatal aviation accident. We very often go onsite after accidental employee deaths, suicides, or other equally emotionally disruptive events. The agency has a comprehensive EAP contract that provides our team with a local mental health professional to work with the peer whenever an onsite intervention is necessary. Most accidents with fatalities that involve 3 or more air traffic controllers end up having a Critical Incident Stress Debriefing. Because of logistics and geography, we provide the majority of our support over the phone as often times travel is not practical for every event. Our focus is always on supporting our fellow air traffic professionals and giving them the tools to make a quick and healthy recovery from the acute stress event.
The NATCA CISM Team is very fortunate to have an amazing relationship with all levels of management in the FAA. After nearly 18 years, the value of CISM has become ingrained in the culture of the air traffic control profession. And for a profession and culture as unique as air traffic control, there is nothing more powerful or effective than peer to peer support when that support is needed.
Right now, nearly 50% of the controller workforce has been replaced as a result of massive retirements due to the intense hiring that took place after 1981 when the air traffic controllers were fired. And in the next several years, the workforce will be all but completely replaced with fresh faces. This is also due to a mandatory retirement age of 56. The NATCA CISM Team is turning over also. Of our originally trained team in 1995, I am the only one of that group that remains. Another joined us for our training in April of 1996 and he is still around and there is only one other from the late 90’s. Attrition is a real issue for CISM teams and ours is no exception. However, we feel there will be adequate overlap of veteran team members so the new generation of air traffic controllers will be equally equipped to maintain a robust and capable CISM team for years to come.
The NATCA CISM Team may be reached by the following means:
Call or text: 202-505-CISM (2476)
Detailed information is available at www.natcacism.com