Disaster Psychology Preparedness

When disaster strikes, physical assistance may not be only part of what survivors need. Psychological First Aid" for disaster-induced stress and trauma will help the survivors.

Disaster-induced stress and trauma are "normal reactions" to an "abnormal" event.

Emotional reactions will vary and may be influenced by:

  • Prior experience with the same or similar event
  • The intensity and length of the event
  • Pre-incident stressors
  • The length of time since the event
  • Loss of loved ones, housing etc.

Emotional reactions can vary depending upon the phase of the event.

  • Before the event, as concern escalates and information is made available through the media and the authorities
  • During the event's impact - responding to the immediate effects of the disaster
  • Immediately after the event's impact when rescue may be needed
  • Immediately after the event when an inventory is made of losses - personal and material
  • Well after the event during recovery

Traumatic Stress Reactions

A traumatic stress reaction is an emotional aftershock of a disaster or other significantly stressful event. Symptoms may occur immediately after the event or weeks after the event is over.

Some common signs/symptoms of emotional reactions to a disaster:

Physical

  • Nausea and/or upset stomach
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Restlessness
  • Difficulty sleeping

Emotional

  • Anxiety and/or fear
  • Guilt
  • Grief and/or depression
  • Anger

Cognitive

  • Nightmares
  • Confusion and/or disorientation
  • Difficulty concentrating

Behavioral

  • Avoidance and/or withdrawing
  • Emotional outbursts
  • Erratic behavior

Taking care of yourself following a traumatic event . . .

  • Try to rest a bit more
  • Contact friends and talk
  • Reestablish your normal schedule as soon as possible
  • Fight against boredom
  • Physical activity can be helpful
  • Eat well-balanced and regular meals (even when you don't feel like it)
  • Avoid alcohol and drugs taken without physician recommendation/prescription
  • Recurring thoughts, dreams or flashbacks are normal - don't try to fight them - they'll decrease over time and be less painful
  • Seek out professional help if the feelings become prolonged or intense

Taking care of others following a traumatic event . . .

  • Listen carefully
  • Spend time with the traumatized person
  • Offer your assistance and a listening ear even if they have not asked for help
  • Help them with everyday tasks like cleaning, cooking, caring for children etc . . .
  • Give them time to be alone
  • Help them stay away from alcohol and drugs
  • Keep in mind what they've been through
  • Don't try to explain it away
  • Don't tell them that they are lucky it wasn't worse
  • Don't take their anger, other feelings or outbursts personally

Get further assistance if . . .

  • The person is having life-threatening symptoms
  • The person is suicidal or homicidal
  • The person is out of control

Emergency Contacts

Emotional emergencies or information 24 hours a day
In Bergen: 262-HELP (201-262-4357)
Physical emergencies: dial 9-1-1 (police, fire & EMS)

(The above information is courtesy of, and used with the permission of, the Bergen County Office of Emergency Management.)