Emergency Management

A peek into the minds of victims of natural disaster and the rescue workers

When a natural disaster strikes, a sense of uncertainty also sets in.

How will I rebuild my home? Are my loved ones safe? How am I going to survive the next few days? These are some of the pertinent questions that every victim ask themselves when a disaster disrupts their life.

However, beneath all these obvious questions, lies sadness, anxiety, and fear of the unknown, which are often not addressed due to its inability to surface at the time of the disaster.

As Dr. Octavio N.Martinez Jr., executive director of Hogg Foundation of Mental Health puts it, “Unlike the physical damage which is all too obvious, the psychological toll will have effects that cascade over time,”.

Rescue workers witnessed psychological trauma among victims when hurricane Katrina hit the US in 2005. The prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) rose from 15% few months after Katrina to 21% a year later. The cases of people experiencing suicidal thoughts also went up from 2.8% to 6.4%.

In fact, it is not just the victims; the rescue workers were also equally affected by the disasters. A study by the University of Michigan states that around 10-20% of rescue workers experienced PTSD symptoms, flashbacks, recurrent dreams, and guilt, post-Katrina.  Some of these symptoms surface when the rescue worker is overwhelmed by the rescue operations or loses a colleague during an operation.

The government has finally been able to convince the rescue workers that it is fine to feel overwhelmed and traumatized by the operations, and it is essential to go for counseling to avoid chronic stress and depression. Health experts also believe that the rescue workers will be able to respond to disasters faster and efficiently only if they are well-equipped to handle their issues.

How do rescue workers provide short-term and long-term support to the victims

Besides government subsidies, medical attention, and temporary shelter, what victims need the most is support from the behavioral health volunteers. It is important to note here that everybody’s situation is different and every person reacts differently in a disaster.  So there is no single way to deal with their problems.

From fear of losing their loved ones to the trauma of losing their homes, victims require immediate mental health care to help them overcome stress and anxiety in the years to come. This is when psychological first aid comes to rescue.

Unlike traditional counseling that focuses on counseling people after a considerable period, disaster counseling focuses on helping people cope with the disaster almost immediately.

Psychological first aid is a modular approach developed nationally, which provides eight different kinds of interventions to help the victims in the aftermath of a disaster.

The disaster counselors use a structured approach to deal with this.

When a victim is taken to the hospital after the disaster, the first step is to take care of their physical needs. Once, that is taken care of; the counselors talk to them to understand how they are doing emotionally. This helps them to identify the victims who are coping well with the situation, and the ones who require special attention to deal with it.

Once the victims receive immediate attention, the next step is to provide them with long-term support.

Long-term support plays a major role in shaping the mental well-being of the victim in the coming years. Once the rescue workers leave, and the outpour of support reduce, the victims have to fend for themselves.

They have to deal with haunting memories of the disaster and a daunting task of rebuilding their lives from scratch. Not to forget the frustration of dealing with insurance companies, and the uncertainty of finding employment again, adds more to the stress.

Children are the worst hit as separation from their family members and the disruption in their routine makes them fearful, aggressive or withdrawn.  Therefore, there is an urgent need to focus on their needs by keeping the communication channels open with them.

Victims also require continuous support to rebuild their lives. For example, in Red Cross shelters, there are mental health workers who attend to the needs of the victims immediately. To help victims rebuild their homes, the mental health workers travel to their locations and provide water and food supply, and ask about their well-being. It provides the victims with a sense of security that support is available to them in the form of these health workers.

How can Emergency management software like ESF8 Portal help the victims?

To begin with, let us first understand the role of Emergency management software in the whole situation of a disaster.

Emergency management software such as ESF8 provides all information required by rescue workers in a single place. It is a one-stop solution for hospitals, nursing homes, adult care facilities and the executive team as it provides real-time updates on beds available in hospitals and the status of the power, fuel, and generator to avoid disruptions.

An emergency management software may not have a direct role to play in improving the mental health of a victim. However, it can be of a great help for rescue workers in finding hospitals and shelter homes closer to the victim’s location as it reduces their anxiety on seeing people they know.

The software is also useful for rescue workers who require information on the nearest mental health care hospital when a victim shows symptoms of emotional and psychological turmoil. This helps in providing timely help to the victim.

In conclusion

As psychological symptoms are not apparent, many people including the victims themselves may ignore it. Sometimes, it may not be possible to diagnose it immediately.

However, if you find something odd in yours or your loved ones’ behavior; consult a mental health care expert immediately. The faster you identify and address it, the quicker will be the recovery.