PCC 503 Disasters & Community Trauma: Mental health issues of Survivors & First Responders

Faculty: Dr. Ann-Marie Neale (Profile)


It seems like almost every day we are continually faced with the aftermath of natural or technological disasters, acts of terrorism and other community trauma. It is impossible to turn on the news or browse the Internet without hearing of another earthquake, typhoon, tsunami, plane crash, act of terror or other tragic event. As a Mental Health Specialist with the American Red Cross, I had firsthand experience with counseling survivors of natural disasters as well as being of help to the volunteers and first responders. Survivors of these tragic events have immediate needs that are physical, emotional and psychological in nature. First responders such as local mental health professionals, firefighters, police officers and clergy often experience fatigue, emotional distress and exhaustion. Whether first responders are lay volunteers or come from professional agencies such as the local police force, the National Guard, FEMA, local fire departments, from volunteer agencies such as the Red Cross or the Salvation Army or from volunteer local clergy, medical or mental health professionals, just like the victims (or survivors as I prefer to call them), they will also need support both during and after the event.

The main purpose of this course is to familiarize students with the unique characteristics of natural and technological disasters, acts of terrorism, phases of disasters, the special needs of survivors and first responders as well as appropriate intervention techniques for both these groups. The importance of collaborative efforts among professionals such as clergy, chaplains, mental health professionals and others will be explored. While this is an introductory course and is not meant to provide in-depth training or education; it will hopefully encourage students to learn more and to implement the suggestions found in the readings and discussions.

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