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SAMHSA News - Volume X, No. 3, Summer 2002

Responding to Terrorism: Recovery, Resilience, Readiness (Part 3)


For faith communities, kindness encompasses both a spiritual and material response to crisis. Mickey Caison, director of the Disaster Response for the North American Mission Board within the Southern Baptist Convention, spoke of the church's partnership with the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army to provide more than 500,000 meals in lower Manhattan after the 9-11 attack.

At the same time, chaplains providing pastoral care met both profound human needs and unexpected challenges, such as limited access to Ground Zero and lack of training and experience with disaster relief.

"We need a national standard for training disaster-relief chaplains, perhaps based on the military chaplain model," Mr. Caison suggested.

In addition, he said that in the next 2 years, New York should expect high attrition in local clergy, as with other first responders, and that spiritual and emotional intervention is needed for these caregivers.

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When Pan Am Flight 103 exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988, Eileen Monetti's world changed forever. Her 20-year-old son Rick, on his way home from a semester abroad, lost his life in the crash, along with 269 others.

Ms. Monetti said that she and her husband turned to other surviving families for help in the difficult days and years ahead. "The group has been vital emotional support all the way through the trial last March of Libyan nationals accused of this act of terror," she said. "Most families are strong. People are basically healed, but we will never be the same."

While acknowledging the vital role of Federal agencies in helping families, she felt the Government in 1988 was unprepared to support the terrorist victims' families adequately. When disaster strikes, "first impressions of Government are lasting," she said. "Victims of terrorism and their survivors need special care. Their needs are real and longstanding, and subsequent political and terrorist events deeply affect their mental health."

Ms. Monetti now works with surviving families of World Trade Center attack victims.

Helping parents cope with the consequences of disaster, from losing a loved one to losing a job, can directly affect their children's mental health, Assistant Surgeon General Susan J. Blumenthal, M.D., M.P.A., pointed out. Fostering resiliency in young people is one of the most important challenges our country now faces, she said.

"For children, parental demoralization is the real issue of living under danger," said Robert Pynoos, M.D., professor of Psychiatry at the University of California at Los Angeles and director of the National Center for Child Traumatic Stress. When a family's sense of safety is threatened, children need extra closeness from parents who are likely to be preoccupied and irritable, he explained.

Successful treatment for children affected by a disaster may include such simple tasks as remembering to take a child's hand when walking by the scene of the trauma. In treatment, young children may also be helped by replaying the event in a "time machine" to manipulate the outcome. In doing so, the child can "move closer to speaking about what it would be like to have a loved one back with them and get help with feelings of loss," Dr. Pynoos said.

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