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Victims Helped Through CRISIS : Volunteer Teams Offer Emotional Support at Emergency Scenes

May 24, 1985|DENNIS McLELLAN | Times Staff Writer

Debra Barbee, a marketing assistant for a computer marketing firm, went home after work to shower and change clothes. Hallie Willoughby, a secretary for the Costa Mesa Planning Commission, had to work late and, to save time, changed clothes at work.

It was Friday night and Willoughby, 31, and Barbee, 28, were getting together at 6. But theirs was not the typical Friday night destination.

They were headed for the Huntington Beach police station, where, for the next eight hours, they would sit waiting for the telephone to ring.

The two Huntington Beach residents are volunteers with Police Crisis Assistance, otherwise known as CRISIS, a pilot program sponsored by the nonprofit Community Service Programs under a grant by the state Office of Criminal Justice Planning.

The CRISIS program, established early last year, operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week in Irvine, Costa Mesa and Huntington Beach.

The volunteers, who work out of the cities' police stations from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. and are on call at other times, respond at the scene of emergencies at the request of an officer. The two-person CRISIS teams, trained to work in stressful situations, offer emotional support to victims and their families and assist with emergency needs and providing information and referrals.

The calls have frequently concerned incidents of domestic violence or sexual assault, but team members also have encountered a variety of other situations calling for emotional support, such as traffic accidents, burglaries, robberies, suicides and death notifications.

Barbee and Willoughby are typical of the program's more than 40 volunteers, most of whom are women whose occupations include job titles such as nurse, sales clerk, waitress, letter carrier, airline reservation clerk, word processing supervisor, restaurant manager and dietitian.

But although their backgrounds and occupations vary, they share a common bond.

"They're all very motivated," said Brent Buford, CRISIS program director. "They have a true desire to just help their fellow man, and they see this as a way to do that."

"It is," he added, "pretty much altruism at its best."

At 6 p.m., the second floor of the Huntington Beach Police Department is deserted, and, except for the easy-listening music coming from an FM radio station playing over a speaker system, it is uncannily quiet.

In the small, windowless CRISIS team office next to the detective bureau, Barbee and Willoughby have notified the police watch commander and dispatcher that they are on duty.

Although Friday and Saturday nights typically are the busiest shifts for the CRISIS teams--and the Huntington Beach team usually handles more calls than the Irvine or Costa Mesa teams--there is no guarantee that Barbee and Willoughby will be called into action tonight.

And until the phone does ring, they are on their own.

Volunteers, Buford said, typically pass the time reading, knitting, balancing their checkbooks or, if they're students, doing homework.

Time Used for Talk

"I usually bring my Trivial Pursuit," Willoughby said with a smile. "We have access to the TV in the back room, but usually we talk and get to know each other."

She glanced at Barbee, with whom she's worked before, and laughed: "I know her life history, and she knows mine."

Willoughby, who has worked as a clerk for the FBI, a secretary on Gerald Ford's vice-presidential and presidential staffs and as an Army journalist stationed in Germany, said she volunteered for the CRISIS program 14 months ago "because I'm a survivor of many crises."

"As a matter of fact," she said, "I felt with my experiences in learning how to survive that I could pass that along or be a guide to other people. I wanted the experience of helping other people, and I felt this was a good program for that."

Barbee, who is divorced and the mother of a 7-year-old daughter, volunteered for the program last July.

'I Love Dealing With People'

"I'm military-oriented, so I've been exposed to various cultures, different types of people and problems," said Barbee, whose father served in the Air Force while she was growing up. "The job I do (as a marketing assistant) is more paper-oriented, and I love dealing with people."

Barbee said she averages two or three CRISIS team shifts a month, and Willoughby, who is divorced and childless, usually volunteers four or five times a month.

"I enjoy it," Willoughby said. "You can sit here and not get any calls--last March three or four times in a row it was absolutely dead, nothing. But the next working period, I had a very interesting call, and it made all those other times worthwhile."

The call involved a traffic accident in which one person was killed and several were injured. Willoughby spent three hours talking to one of the uninjured victims at the scene and at the hospital until the woman's family arrived.

'Mixture of Jobs'

"You can go from a car accident to getting death notifications," Willoughby said. "It's quite a mixture of jobs all under the title of 'crisis.' "

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