On the scene after disaster strikes

After recent wildfires, storms, floods and a mall shooting, members of the APA Disaster Response Network (DRN) are there to help

by Public Relations Staff

The American Psychological Association’s Disaster Response Network (DRN) provides a mechanism for volunteer psychologists, in partnership with recognized disaster response organizations, to respond to local and national disasters and other traumatic events. Since the DRN’s launch in 1992, more than 2,000 psychologists have volunteered their time and professional skills to individuals, families and communities.

DRN members have been involved in recent response efforts in the wake of treacherous weather and wildfires in the Midwest and western states, as well as a mall shooting in Nebraska.

California wildfires

Several California DRN members mobilized to offer assistance during the wildfires that burned throughout parts of southern California from late October to early November. DRN members volunteered in American Red Cross (ARC) shelters set up throughout the region. A few DRN members from other states also joined in the response.

The APA Practice Directorate quickly developed materials to help people who had experienced personal loss from the wildfires ("Recovering from the Wildfires") and for those who were indirectly affected and feeling distressed ("Tips for Managing Your Distress Related to the Wildfires"). The information was posted immediately to The APA Help Center.

These articles were distributed widely to the public via the Help Center and APA.org and to APA members via listservs. DRN member Diane Bridgeman, PhD, noted that the Native American community in the San Diego mountains included these Help Center materials in informational packets for their community.

APA member Daniel J. Mosley, EdD, of Denver, CO, spent 10 days outside of San Diego in Ramona assisting those who returned home following the fires. "Sometimes they returned to an intact home, and sometimes they just [came back] to ashes to sift through," Mosley said. He and others spoke with residents about their often traumatic experience and pointed them toward additional support resources.

Midwest ice storms

Officials in Oklahoma declared a state of emergency this week as ice storms caused the biggest power outage in the state’s history. The Central Oklahoma chapter of the American Red Cross has opened several shelters; DRN members are among those staffing the shelters and helping address disaster mental health needs. At this time, shelters are aiding a modest number of people who have sought public assistance. The storm also is having an impact in Kansas, Missouri, Iowa and Wisconsin; DRN volunteers in these states continue to monitor the potential need for disaster mental health services.

Northwest flooding

In response to winter flooding, the American Red Cross opened 20 shelters in affected regions of northwest Oregon and Washington state. Lewis County, Washington, was the most affected by the extreme flooding. An area of the north-south interstate was closed, necessitating a 400-mile detour around a mile of underwater highway. Washington DRN Coordinator Norman Mar, PhD, has been tracking response operations and DRN volunteers are on standby status in the region.

Nebraska mall shooting

A 19 year-old gunman opened fire in an Omaha mall on December 5, killing nine people and injuring an additional five. The Omaha Heartland ARC Chapter has been offering grief counseling services to the Omaha community, relying on its trained cadre of disaster mental health volunteers.

Nebraska DRN Coordinator Rose Esseks, PhD, is consulting with state ARC chapters about transitioning the care to available community mental health services — particularly for mall kiosk owners and workers, many of whom are immigrants without access to the employee assistance programs offered by larger chain stores. DRN coordinators from other parts of the country who have worked on disaster operations involving mass shootings are providing consultation to the Nebraska DRN coordinator.

The APA-produced article "Managing Your Distress in the Aftermath of the Mall Shootings" was made widely available. The piece was distributed at the Westroads Mall, where the shootings took place, and at state agency offices. The material also was featured on the front page of the Web site for the Lincoln chapter of the American Red Cross and was posted on the site for Omaha television station WOWT.

The individual articles referenced here, plus additional pieces on dealing with disasters and trauma, are available at The APA Help Center.