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Supporting Emergency Responders
Photo by David Orban
by
Dr. Jim Guy
on
April 4, 2014
| First Responders | From the Field |

I recently read an "after-action" report on the effectiveness of emergency first-responders immediately following the NYC 911 terrorist attack.  Among the problems identified, it noted that responders were psychologically unprepared for the carnage and mass fatalities that resulted.  Furthermore, the lack of organized onsite psychological care during the early days of the response left emergency workers alone with their despair and distress.  Together, these factors compromised their effectiveness and endurance.  The report's conclusions identified the critical need to psychologically prepare and support emergency first-responders in future mass fatality incidents.  

I was interested to note the consequences of this week's major earthquake in Chile.  The strikingly low fatality rate was attributed to strict building codes, increased public awareness and advanced preparation, and a highly organized governmental emergency response program.  There seemed to be a tone of professionalism and competency among emergency workers and victims they assisted.  The overall response was effective because people were prepared.  

Equipping emergency-responders for tough situations is at the heart of the mission of the Headington Institute.  After 15 years of providing psychological services to aid workers deployed to some of the worst humanitarian emergencies, we've learned what they need to keep going.  Our brain research has shown us how to promote their personal resilience and trauma recovery.  We've identified behaviors and attitudes that can make a significant difference before, during, and after working in a disaster.  

This is why we have recently joined the City of Los Angeles in an intra-agency initiative to prepare for a future mass fatality earthquake or terrorist event.  This includes representatives from the Police Department, Fire Department, FBI, Emergency Management Department, Port Authority, LAX Police, and American Red Cross.  We're bringing all we've learned abroad to assist in the training and preparation of our neighbors who will do the rescue and recovery tasks if/when the worst happens here.  By helping them become resilient beforehand, and supporting them in the midst of the emergency response, we hope to increase their effectiveness and endurance.  

Our public servants deserve and need our support.  It's a privilege for us to partner with these local heroes.  Thanks for joining us in this effort.  

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