GLYNCO, Ga. — At an airport security checkpoint, federal employees receive news that several of their co-workers were in a fatal accident carpooling to work. During this type of crisis scenario, distraught employees may shift their focus, which impacts operations and leaves vital security missions vulnerable.
In late 2019, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), Training Centers Division (TCD) engaged with the Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers (FLETC) to develop a crisis leadership lesson as part of TSA’s Essentials of Directing Security Operations (EDSO) training course.
TSA/TCD Program Analyst Stephen Butter spearheaded the team, including FLETC’s Crisis Incident Stress Management (CISM) staff, to create and integrate crisis leadership into their leadership-training course.
CISM Specialist Dr. Ashley Neal Callicutt explains, “A crisis is defined as an acute emotional reaction to a powerful stimulus or demand. It is any event that is disruptive to an individual that causes enough distress that a person’s typical coping skills seem to fail them.” During a crisis, sustaining mission operability requires attention to detail. That same attention to detail is needed for crisis-impacted employees.
“The Crisis Leadership skills the FLETC CISM experts provide our leaders will help us respond appropriately and professionally to a critical incident, ensuring we have officers focused safeguarding the transportation systems on the front line,” says Butter. “We need to train our leaders on how to deal with, and how to lead during a crisis, that emotional or psychological crisis, with their people.”
Working together, Callicutt and Matthew Joyner, CISM program manager, focus the training on crisis leadership from an employee engagement perspective. “Our goal is to provide those in leadership positions the soft skills needed to address their staff in the most appropriate way, during or directly after a crisis has occurred,” explains Callicutt. “Specifically, we are training these leaders how to deliver information to large groups of people so they are informed, rumors are reduced and/or eliminated, and their people know what to expect next.”
“I don’t think there is just one way to handle critical incidents or people in times of crisis,” notes Callicutt. “One thing we always try to convey, in every course of this type, is lead with your heart and take care of your people. If you do those two things, above all else, everything will eventually be OK.”
TCD Director Barbara Schukraft shares, “Dr. Callicutt and Matt Joyner have repeatedly been available to assist TSA at FLETC during a crisis, and now will be able to share their expertise with field leaders. I cannot be more thankful for their collaboration during the launch of our new course by sharing their time and knowledge.”
The TSA-specific lesson consists of a two-hour block of instruction and capstone scenario. During the course capstone scenarios, leaders are engaged in providing a crisis management brief to employees. Using actual critical incidents allows for discussion of best practices and areas for improvement.
The successful two-week pilot EDSO course from Aug. 25 to Sept. 10 consisted of 24 Assistant Federal Security Directors and Deputy Assistant Federal Security Directors with responsibilities in screening, law enforcement, inspections, and mission support from airports coast to coast.
“The mission of the TSA, to protect the nation's transportation systems to ensure freedom of movement for people and commerce, requires a workforce that is committed, focused, and diligent,” shares Butter. “When a critical incident happens within our system, we need leaders that are capable of bringing stasis to the situation and identifying personnel who may be in crisis.”
TSA Program Analyst Stephen Butter (center), with FLETC CISM Specialist Dr. Ashley Neal Callicutt and Program Manager Matthew Joyner discuss final preparations for the crisis leadership instruction on FLETC-Glynco for TSA’s Essentials of Directing Security Operations pilot course Sept. 9, 2020. (Photo: Lori Flynn, FLETC OPA)
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