BY Mike Kavanagh

Are you equipped to provide prompt, effective support following crises and disasters involving your organization, its employees and clients, and anyone caught up in an event?

In 1985, Carolyn Coarsey was waiting at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport for the arrival of her fiance. The aircraft landed short of the runway killing 136 on board including her fianc. The airline’s employees went into lockdown, some sharing incorrect information. From that day, Coarsey devoted herself to bridging the gap between airlines and survivors and families when a crash occurs. As a former airline employee, she knew that there were staff who wanted to help but did not know how.

Dr Carolyn Coarsey Ph.D. developed the Human Services Response (HSR) training. The HSR models are used by transportation and other industries around the globe as a way to empower employees when tragedy strikes.

Since its introduction in the US, the Aviation Disaster Family Assistance Act 1996 has become the recommended aviation response worldwide. A pivotal element of the legislation is the provision of Care Teams, sometimes called Special Assistance Teams. Care Team members are volunteer employees who work face-to-face with survivors and families to provide short-term help with their immediate needs. They provide compassionate non-counselling assistance which can include organising transport and accommodation, providing food and emergency clothing and helping keep passengers and family members informed. Best practice calls for a minimum two Care Team members per family. Activation is normally less than two weeks.

In 2007, Dr Coarsey worked with Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) to shape the first cruise line Care Team programs; thousands of employees have received training. Tour operators, rail companies and theme parks have also established Care Teams.

Alaska is an example where the many small tourism operators are hard pressed to respond to a crisis affecting their business. The Alaska Travel Industry Association (ATIA) has employed the Family Assistance Education & Research Foundation, co-founded by Dr Coarsey to train Care Teams under ATIA’s umbrella, and they are now able to assist all members.

Tiffany Johnson, a survivor of the 1999 Saxetenbach Gorge canyoning disaster in Switzerland wrote in her recently released book Brave Enough Now of the return journey to Australia. Barefoot because of swollen feet, she endured the flight alone, having suffered a dislocated jaw, four broken ribs, damaged pancreas, left tibia fracture, extensive soft tissue damage, and acute mental anguish. Not good enough; today we can do better.

So I want to challenge you. Are you confident in your current disaster plan and will it deliver where it matters most?


Mike Kavanagh is Regional Director Australia for Aviem International, Inc. and its not-for-profit partner, the Family Assistance Education & Research Foundation, Inc (FAF). A 39-year veteran of the airline industry, he lost friends in two aviation crashes and was a member of the MH370 Australian Care Team. FAF has over 9,000 trained Care Team members in 56 countries. If you are interested in the Care Team principles, email [email protected].

Subscribe To travelBulletin