Josh, Lilli, Kaia and Cora, four legged furry pals from a certified therapy dog volunteer organization, dropped in to see the team at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Hawai‘i Wildfire Recovery Field Office in Kiehi, Hawai‘i, Oct. 24.
Each year, USACE deploys hundreds of trained personnel and resources across the United States and its territories to respond to emergencies and aid in disaster response and recovery.
USACE emergency responders often work 12-hour days, seven days a week for months at a time, in high-stress, pressure-filled environments; and at times may have to navigate difficult situations. As a result, deployments can be emotionally challenging and isolating for some.
To help employees overcome some of the challenges associated with disaster events, USACE deploys the Critical Incident Stress Management program. CISM is a peer-driven stress management program that combines pre-crisis preparation, stress education and post-event response to help people recover more quickly from abnormally stressful job-related incidents.
Bringing in therapy dogs is a new stress-relieving method that CISM has recently incorporated, when available. These furry friends have been widely used within the healthcare industry and within some branches of the armed forces for years but are a new addition to USACE.
According to the Journal of Mental Health, interaction with therapy dogs releases endorphins, reduces stress and anxiety, and lowers blood pressure.
“Some people are not comfortable communicating their feelings so petting a dog helps them relax,” said Angela Stone, a USACE critical incident stress management peer supporter from the Little Rock District. “The dogs have a calming effect and act as a stress reliever.”
“Even though some people may not feel comfortable coming to talk to us initially, the dogs help to open the door for conversation,” added Jeff Nelson, CISM peer supporter from the Rock Island District.
USACE does not have its own therapy dogs, so CISM relies on the help of local volunteer organizations to assist, and two local Maui organizations answered the call.
Employees took small breaks throughout the morning to play, pet, or just sit with the dogs. Amy Murphy, a USACE geographer deployed to the RFO said having the dogs here brought joy, happiness, and a piece of home into the RFO.
“Most people love animals. They miss their pets, so this gives them a little bit of normalcy,” said Stone.
The CISM team is comprised of USACE employees who volunteer to help their fellow teammates. Armed with specialized training, peer supporters are equipped to assist deployed personnel with managing stressful situations.
The program offers resilience and stress education, one-on-one confidential support, emergency mobilization, employee assistance program referral, and personal resiliency training.
For more information about the CISM program visit https://usace.dps.mil/sites/KMP/SitePages/CISM.aspx