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The Sydney siege: How Red Cross volunteers responded


Disasters and crisis events like the Sydney siege can also be trying times for emergency workers, both during the event and in the months that follow.

Tuesday December 15, 2015

Red Cross staff and volunteers worked throughout the Sydney siege and in the weeks that followed. They provided support and psychological first aid to those affected, as well as helping to collect the countless floral tributes left in Martin Place.

Red Cross thanks its 90 staff and volunteers who gave hundreds of hours of their time throughout the event and in the weeks after to provide support and psychological first aid to those affected. Volunteers and staff spent many hours moving the floral tributes in Martin Place, and sorting through the cards and messages left for the victims and survivors. They also answered more than 1,700 phone calls from the public about the tragedy, and helped more than 800 people in Martin Place.

One such volunteer was Fadi, who previously volunteered for Lebanese Red Cross before moving to Australia 14 years ago. Fadi spent the day of the siege helping people in Martin Place-all while in the knowledge that one of siege victims was someone he knew.

"It was hard volunteering in Martin Place at moments because you want to help everybody but sometimes you feel yourself remembering everything that is happening, which brings a tear to your eye," recalls Fadi. "Then you have to remember that you're there in a professional capacity. You have to learn to manage the challenge and to control your emotions, to try to remember that you're there to help people who need you. That's what our role is.

"You have to learn to manage the challenge and to control your emotions, to try to remember that you're there to help people who need you." Fadi, Volunteer, Australian Red Cross

"I actually had a personal relationship with one of the siege survivors; I know them and their family and friends very well. Seeing them on a screen in that situation was very confronting; very upsetting. I found that emotionally challenging, regardless of all the training and all the life skills that I've built.

"But I learnt many things from the event. If you're given the opportunity to step up and lead a team to try to make a difference in people's lives then the most important thing is you work from the heart. Not only with the people of Sydney but also with the people who work around you."

Another volunteer was Diane, who supported people in Martin Place during and after the hostage crisis: "The level of distress was really high for a lot of people. I just went into professional mode-into normal Red Cross mode and did my job.

"I just went into professional mode-into normal Red Cross mode and did my job. You deal with the situation and then deal with your own emotions later." Diane, Volunteer, Australian Red Cross

"You deal with the situation and then deal with your own emotions later. You're there to care. You've got a job. As long as you are feeling very safe yourself-and I've never felt unsafe doing anything with Red Cross- you can perform that role and then you can walk away and become yourself later on."

The Sydney siege was a unique and challenging environment for volunteers from all emergency service agencies. For Red Cross staff and volunteers who are highly experienced in working in natural disasters, the Sydney siege was an unprecedented situation. But despite being a very different kind of disaster, they stood up, rose to the challenge and did what they do best: providing help, support and assistance to those who need it.

If you or someone you know was affected by the Sydney siege, or any disaster, Red Cross has lots of free resources to help with recovery available at redcross.org.au/emergency-resources. There are also resources specifically for young people aged 12 to 25 at aftertheemergency.redcross.org.au.

Listen to our podcast for more advice about dealing with memorials and anniversaries of disasters.

If you need to talk to someone to get the support you need, don't hesitate to get in touch with a professional organisation such as LifelineBeyondblue and Kids Help Line.

If you're interested in helping people in times of emergency, find out how you can volunteer for Red Cross.

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