Meet the Team: Shabita Sumaraj, Head of Humanitarian Services and Dean Trusller, Head of Crisis Management Centre and Preparedness

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

"You need to listen to what the incident is telling you..."

Emergency humanitarian and disaster response services is not a new industry. Throughout history where disaster has struck, there has been a need for expert crisis management and leadership to deal with the aftermath of an incident, from recovery and clean-up operations to providing support for victims and bereaved families. In today’s world, new complexities and challenges are constantly arising, changing the nature of how response teams work.

The rise of natural disasters caused by climate change, international healthcare crises such as the global Covid-19 pandemic and heightened geopolitical tensions resulting in increased conflict, have impacted how global emergency response teams can operate and deliver their services to those who need it most. On a more positive note, however, greater transparency around mental health has helped enhance the support that response teams can offer, through more accessible and open conversations with both the survivors and bereaved families. Moreover, the support that teams witnessing such tragedies while on the ground receive is crucial to their own wellbeing and to the service they provide.

Kenyon International Emergency Services, part of the Air Partner group, has dedicated over 117 years to delivering rapid, effective, and compassionate disaster response efforts to the highest standard. Since its foundation in 1906, Kenyon has become the leading provider of full-service emergency and disaster response.

Its offering has evolved with the times, introducing new methods and services to ensure its team of 2,500 specialist Kenyon Responders and Associates are fully equipped to handle any incident. It has played a pivotal role in some of the world’s major disasters and crises including providing disaster relief services during the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami. This included the setup of mobile mortuaries, crisis communication support, and comprehensive IT support to the Disaster Victim Identification Information Management Centre, leading to over 90% of reported missing persons being positively identified.

It has also supported in more niche operations such as the evacuation of a client’s employees from Ukraine following the Russian invasion in 2022. Initially engaged to provide remote mental health support to the company’s employees ahead of the invasion, the operation swiftly changed course, and Kenyon set up multiple centres in Poland to help facilitate with the evacuation of the employees and their families, providing them with temporary accommodation. The Kenyon team also provided welfare support for those who had experienced significant turmoil as well as family assistance to help evacuees contact their friends and relatives.

As Kenyon continuously innovates its offering, the latest phase of progress involves the strengthening of its global leadership, including the hiring of two new Heads of Department at Kenyon’s HQ in Bracknell, United Kingdom. Shabita Sumaraj and Dean Trussler will hold the titles of Head of Humanitarian Services and Head of Crisis Management Centre and Preparedness, respectively.

As Head of Humanitarian Services, Shabita hopes to inspire people to do the best job possible. “Managers manage people, leaders inspire people,” says Shabita, who believes that inspiring the right mindset in people is essential for when dealing with a crisis and “the manual goes out the window and you have to do things on the fly.”

The mental health of her team is a key aspect that Shabita is keen to ensure is properly looked after as she understands that her team faces stressful, and often tragic, situations. At Kenyon, mental health practitioners are available at every incident and Kenyon Responders must speak with the practitioner before leaving an incident, to ensure their needs are met and an open line of communication is available should they require anything in the future. Kenyon also offers this service to its clients’ staff members as well as those affected by the incident.

Complementing Shabita’s role is Dean Trussler, who leads Kenyon’s Crisis Management Centre and Preparedness department whose work overlaps with Humanitarian Services to provide a full-spectrum service. To work effectively in crisis management, “you need to listen to what the incident is telling you”, says Dean. A former Marine, Dean worked at the coalface of high-pressure operations in Northern Ireland and the Congo, where he learned much of his crisis management skills and how to deal with situations in the moment, with the information in front of you.

After leaving the military, Dean’s career in emergency planning and business resilience grew from strength to strength. Working in emergency planning roles for local authorities in South East England which included overseeing the organisation of the London 2012 Olympics in his borough, as well as deploying flooding response during the Covid-19 pandemic, revealed the level of clear communications and lateral thinking required to run emergency response operations smoothly. This eventually led Dean to his new role as Head of Crisis Management Centre and Preparedness at Kenyon.

Soft skills are essential for this type of work. Any given incident involves a lot of moving parts, from deploying people to incident sites, to setting up command centres. As a result, Dean believes it is vital to remain calm under pressure. It is also important to set expectations so that the client understands what is possible to deliver within the timeframe, and to develop strong people skills to ensure the team is happy and well prepared.

The implementation of the Civil Contingencies Act in 2004 and the increased interest from the general public in emergency response since the late 2010s has put Emergency Preparedness at the forefront for many businesses and organisations. It is no longer enough to just have a crisis response plan, but to routinely test it and ensure staff are trained properly to carry it out efficiently. As Dean recalls of his military days, “the reason why we trained so hard was that, if things go wrong, you can just carry on and carry out your mission.”

Unfortunately, there will always be a need for emergency response services, and for these to evolve as the global landscape changes. Specialist providers like Kenyon International Emergency Services that have global offices in multiple continents and a large network of highly skilled individuals, spearheaded by experienced leadership, provide a sense of assurance that even in the face of devastation and adversity, there is a team working tirelessly to ensure the best possible outcomes.