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February 9, 2001

Critical incident response team seeks to prevent crises

by Anne Krapfl
Preventing crises is as much the charter of Iowa State's Critical Incidents Response Team (CIRT) as responding to them. During its Feb. 2 open forum, the Professional and Scientific Council received a report on the goals and activity of CIRT.

Teresa Branch, assistant vice president for student affairs, chairs the team. Other team members work in public safety, student counseling, student affairs, human resource services and news service, and bring a specific expertise to the team.

"CIRT members are happy to consult with you if you're concerned about an individual or the individual's behavior," Branch said. "You don't have to wait until something happens to call. We want to serve a preventative purpose, as well.

Since spring 1995, CIRT members have been trained to deal with problems that include threatened violence and acts of violence, natural disasters, chemical spills, life-threatening diseases, transportation accidents and demonstrations with a potential to turn riotous.

Gene Deisinger, a team member who heads the special operations unit in the department of public safety, said not all calls for help end up with the CIRT team. If units represented on the team can respond adequately to a call, they will. But he emphasized that ISU employees shouldn't try to evaluate the "worthiness" of their requests.

"If you have concerns, go ahead and call with the information you have," he said. Sometimes, it turns out others have expressed concerns about a problem or individual, independent of your experience, he said.

When asked for advice on spotting potentially dangerous people in the workplace, Deisinger said he's more concerned about a silent, seething person than one who blows off steam or is outspoken. He cautioned against relying on "criminal profiles" -- lists of stereotypical personality or behavior traits -- that magazines may publish.

Predictors of violence are the individual, whether the setting facilitates or discourages violence, and the presence or absence of "triggering" conditions that make the person view violence as a viable option. Each incident is evaluated using these predictors, he said.

For example, convicted serial killer Ted Bundy probably wasn't a danger to many kinds of people, Deisinger said. "But if you fit his victim profile (young women with long hair who responded to requests for help), Ted Bundy was very dangerous."

Requests for CIRT assistance may be made to Deisinger, 4-4428, or Branch, 4-4420.

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