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How To Cope With A Major Disaster

Disasters can bring emotional tolls that are far more devastating than the financial burdens caused by the damage and loss of business, home, or personal property.

Many populations are at higher risk such as those with access or functional needs, children, people who donít speak English or donít speak it well, senior citizens, etc. Those people may need additional assistance.

If you or somebody in your family experiences disaster-related stress, seek crisis counseling.

Understanding the Events of a Disaster

You need to understand each effect of a disaster.

  • Everyone who experiences or sees a disaster will be effected by it.
  • Feeling anxious about the safety of yourself, family, and friends is perfectly normal.
  • Anger, grief, and profound sadness are perfectly normal reactions to trauma.
  • You will recover more easily if you acknowledge your feelings.
  • You will heal faster by focusing on your abilities and strengths.
  • It is healthy to accept help from resources and community programs.
  • Everybody has their own way of coping and may have different needs.
  • It is natural to want to retaliate at somebody who has caused pain.
Children and senior citizens may be affected more than the general population by the disaster. Those who experience it secondhand through media coverage can also be greatly affected.

For counseling, contact volunteer agencies, professional counselors, or faith-based organizations. Also, FEMA and government agencies in the affected area might provide assistance for crisis counseling.

Make sure you update your family disaster plan and replenished essential disaster supplies in preparation for the next emergency.

Signes of Disaster-Induced Stress

When someone you know is suffering from disaster-related stress you should seek professional counseling or specialized crisis counseling. Some of the most common signs of disaster-induced stress include the following:

  • Thoughts and speech are disjointed and non-coherent.
  • Sudden and prolonged sleep apnia.
  • Inability to maintain a sense of balance in life.
  • Easily agitated or frustrated.
  • Increased dependancy on drugs or alcohol.
  • Inability to focus or shortern than normal attention span.
  • Decrease in work performance.
  • Unexpected and prolonged headaches or stomachaches.
  • Tunnel vision/muffled hearing.
  • Prolonged cold or flu-like symptoms.
  • Disorientation or confusion.
  • Struggling to concentrate.
  • Scared to leave the house.
  • Prolonged sadness or depression.
  • Impending feeling of doom or hopelessness.
  • Unexpected crying bouts and uncommon mood-swings.
  • Uncommon fear of others, crowds, or being alone.

How to Ease Disaster-Related Stress

Talk to professional counselors for helping you cope with disaster-related stress. Here are ways to ease that stress:
  • Talk to somebody about what you are feeling even if it is difficult.
  • Get help from professional counselors who work with post-disaster stress.
  • Donít feel guilty about the event or any inability to help in the rescue effort.
  • Improve your own health through exercise, rest, healthy eating, relaxation, etc.
  • Try to keep up a normal daily routine for yourself and your family while limiting demanding responsibilities.
  • Spend some time with friends and family.
  • Go to and participate in the memorials.
  • Lean on your support groups of family, friends, and those from your religious institution.
Restock your disaster supplies kits and update your family disaster plan.

Helping Children Deal with the Stress of Disaster

Disasters can make children feel scared and insecure even if they didnít go through it personally and only saw it on the news or heard about it. Regardless of how it was experienced, parents and teachers need to be ready to help if reactions to the stress occur.

There are several ways younger children may respond to the disaster such as returning to bedwetting, sleep problems, or having separation anxiety. Older children may become angry, have school problems, or withdrawal symptoms. Those who experienced it indirectly through TV may also have stress.

Bew Aware of Risk Fastors

Most of the time, these stresses are short-lived and are normal reactions to the event. However, for some children they can experience more long-lasting psychological distress because of one or more of these three risk factors:
  • Direct exposure to the disaster, being evacuated, seeing others injured or dead, fearing for oneís life, etc.
  • Loss and grief: this comes from the death or serious injury of friends and family.
  • Continuing stress from the effects of the disaster, such as temporary moves, job losses of parents, loss of support networks and friends, loss of personal property, or costs accumulated due to the disaster.
Most of the time the above responses are temporary and will diminish over time (in the absence of loss of loved ones or threat to life or property.) For those that experienced it directly, reminders like high winds, sirens, smoke, or anything else that reminds them of the event may cause stress to return. Having a history of severe stress may contribute to these types of feelings.

Children will take their cues from their parents when it comes to coping. Adults should manage their own feelings in order to help children cope. They should also include children in preparing the family disaster plan and the family recovery plan in order to instill confidence in the children if disaster should strike.

Addressing A Child's Emotional Needs

Childrenís reactions are influenced by those of adults. Children should be encouraged by adults to share their thoughts and feelings. Listen to children and answer their questions about the incident and dangers. Be calm and validate the childís concerns by discussing concrete safety plans.

Some children will not need to or want to hear as many details as older children or adults. Listen to them and decide what about the event should be left out. If the child prefers, have them draw a picture of the event to help them express themselves.

Try to be understanding in finding out what is causing the childís anxieties. After a disaster, children are usually afraid that:
  • The event could happen again.
  • Someone they know could be injured or killed.
  • They will be alone and/or separated from family.

Comforting Child After Disasters

Here are suggestions to help reassure a child:
  • Hug and comfort your children because it is reassuring to have personal contact.
  • Calmly recount the disaster and give plans for recovery and continued safety.
  • Help your child express their feelings about the disaster.
  • Spend more time with your children, especially at bedtime.
  • Set up again daily routines for work, school, meals, etc.
  • Get your children involved with special chores they can do that will help them feel like they are helping the family or community recover.
  • Recognize and show appreciation for responsible behavior.
  • Know that your child will probably have a wide range of reaction to the disaster.
  • Encourage your child to help you update the emergency family plan.
If you have tried all the above steps but your child still exhibits stress at school or home, it may be time to seek professional help for him or her. You can get that help from a member of the clergy, your childís primary care physician, or a mental health provider specializing with children.

Protect Your Children from Harmful Media Exposure

News coverage can cause more anxiety in children. This is especially true if there was significant property loss or loss of life. With younger children, seeing the event over and over could cause them to think the event is happening over and over.

If you as a parent want to allow your children TV or internet use where the disaster may be reported, watch with them and encourage communication about the event. Monitor yourself as well so you can limit over exposure to information that provokes anxiety.

Lean On Support Networks

Parents help their children most when they can help themselves with their own feelings. Building support systems helps this. Having these support systems will help parents be better able to manage when a disaster strikes. Parents will be better able to help their children since they are almost always the best source of support for them.

Preparation is essential since disasters are unavoidable. When prepared, children and people in general cope better.

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