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11th Annual IDMH Training and Conference

11th Annual IDMH Training and Conference

"Preparing for the Health and Mental Health Consequences of Climate Change"
 April 17, 2015
Sponsored by the New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services
 Campus Auxiliary Services and WADEM
Titles and Learning Objectives  Schedule of Events   Speaker Bios           

In Spring 2015, the Institute for Disaster Mental Health held our 12th annual conference. While the 2014 event, sponsored by NYS DHSES, focused on the importance of communications in disaster preparedness and response, several presenters also emphasized the urgent need to prepare for the diverse threats presented by climate change. The National Climate Assessment report, released in May 2014 by the U.S. Global Change Research Program, fundamentally altered our understanding of climate change, and dramatically raised the stakes. The report reflects the work of a team of more than 250 authors, mostly climate scientists with exemplary credentials. Its main conclusion, consistent with the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, released a few weeks earlier, warned not only of economic changes, increasing heat waves, inland and coastal flooding, landslides, air pollution, drought, water scarcity, and extreme weather due to climate change, but gave evidence as to how these changes are already happening. Recent extreme weather events in New York State make it clear that these effects are not only being felt in developing nations, but in our own region, with dire physical, psychological, and economic consequences we must confront now. Scientific research predicts that New York and its neighboring northeastern states will likely experience more frequent flooding as a result of sea level rises, erosion, storm surges, and increased precipitation. This will create not only a public safety issue but also a fiscal one, with the U.S. Global Change Research Program reporting more than $2.3 trillion in insured coastal property in New York State. In addition, heat waves and decreasing air quality will likely increase the number of heat-related deaths and illnesses, especially among vulnerable populations such as elderly people and children, and these conditions will tax New York State’s energy system as it struggles to keep up with cooling demands in the hottest days, potentially resulting in increased power outages and blackouts.

Other important New York State industries expected to be damaged by effects of climate change are cold weather products such as blueberries, apples, maple syrup, and dairy products, as well as sources of winter tourism including skiing and other cold weather activities. Rising average temperatures are also leading to increased populations of ticks and mosquitoes that spread Lyme disease, West Nile virus, and other vector-borne illnesses to humans, as well as introducing invasive insects, marine life, and plant species that are damaging the native habitat. These impacts will not only create a production and economic loss for agricultural industries and the families reliant on them but will also effect tourism throughout the region.

In short, climate change-related risks are complex and include not only acute, extreme weather events like the hurricanes and floods that have recently struck New York State, but also chronic public health concerns like the drastic increase in Lyme disease that has sickened and disabled so many in our community. Our state faces the loss of revenues and of many aspects of our way of life that will result in widespread stress, whether an individual is coping with an acute problem like illness or loss of employment, or is more generally trying to adapt to the changing environment.

The reality of climate change is no longer controversial. The IDMH conference focused neither on the “controversy” nor the often-promoted doom and gloom scenarios sometimes used to break through the defenses of those in denial, but on problem solving and practical solutions to the serious health, public health, and mental health consequences of climate change. Presenters with national and international reputations described innovative and practical approaches to addressing community-based problems, including the role of messaging to overcome climate change denial and motivate mitigation efforts among individuals and communities, and the psychological impact of living under conditions of uncertainty about the future. Workshops were tailored for different professional groups likely to be involved in the response to large-in-scope disasters caused by climate change and delivered by leaders in the emergency management, health, and mental health fields with plenty of the “on the ground” experience.

The IDMH conference is the only one of its kind in New York State that brings together emergency management, health, and mental health personnel, who all must play a role in preparing for and responding to future disasters. The only way to mitigate the consequences of the looming crisis is through innovative and thoughtful group planning and preparedness. This conference was intended to jump-start this process by giving emergency services responders, health and mental health professionals, and students preparing to enter these fields understanding of how to recognize and mitigate this upcoming health, public health, and mental health crisis.


Schedule of Events
Links connect to videos of select presentations

9 - 9:30 a.m.: Opening Remarks

  • Dr. Karla Vermeulen, Deputy Director, Institute for Disaster Mental Health
  • President Donald Christian, State University of New York at New Paltz
  • Kevin Wisely, Director, Office of Emergency Management, New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services
  • Col. (Retired) Chris Gibson, Ph.D., Congressman, 19th District New York

9:30 – 10:30 a.m.: "Mental Health Consequences of Climate Change"

  • Dr. Nicole Lurie, Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

10:45-11:45 a.m.: "Climate Change, Communication and Our Inconvenient Minds."

  • Andrew Revkin, New York Times, PACE University

12- 1 p.m.: Lunch & Networking Event

1 - 2 p.m.: "The Health Consequences of a Changing Climate."

  • Dr. George Luber, Associate Director for Climate Change in the Division of Environmental Hazards and Health Effects at the National Center for Environmental Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

2 -3 p.m. "Envisioning a Feasible, Scalable, Effective, and Engaging Mental Health Post-Disaster Response."

  • Dr. Josef Ruzek, Director, Dissemination and Training Division, National Center for PTSD

3:15 - 4:30 p.m.: Workshops

Titles and Learning Objectives


“Mental Health Consequences of Climate Change.” Dr. Nicole Lurie, Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Learning objectives

Participants will be able to:

1. Describe how mental health issues are an integral part of the overall health consequences of climate change.

2. Discuss the significant and specific mental health and well-being consequences of both acute climate change events (such as extreme weather) and more gradual projected climate change outcomes.

3. Understand the special mental health risks faced by at-risk populations, including children, as destructive climate change events unfold.

4. Describe how individual and community resilience factors can potentially mitigate the mental health impacts of climate change.


 “Climate Change, Communication, and Our Inconvenient Minds.” Andrew Revkin, New York Times

This keynote will focus on the current science of climate change, ways in which messaging has polarized the public, and how to use messaging and communication to promote climate change comprehension.

Learning objectives

Participants will be able to:

1. Understand the latest global warming science, including a breakdown of which areas have grown more robust and which less clear.

2. Provide an overview of behavioral research and surveys illuminating why global warming, despite clear basics, is very difficult for the public to absorb and often results in deepened polarization rather than emerging consensus.

3. Learn about innovations in communication tools and strategies that can boost climate change comprehension and defuse divisive feelings.


“The Health Consequences of a Changing Climate.” Dr. George Luber, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

This keynote will focus on the ways in which climate change will affect health and health emergencies in the United States and the strategies public health agencies are using to adapt to the public health challenges of climate change.

Learning objectives

Participants will be able to:

1. Identify the key biophysical indicators of a warming planet

2.  Review the key findings of the 3rd US National Climate Assessment

3. Identify the pathways in which climate change will affect health

4. Identify the strategies public health agencies are employing to adapt to the public health challenges of climate change 


 “Envisioning a Feasible, Scalable, Effective, and Engaging Post-Disaster Response.” Dr. Josef Ruzek, National Center for PTSD

This keynote will focus on understanding the challenges of an effective post-disaster response, and how technology can address some of the obstacles that will be faced in multiple, large-scale disasters as a result of climate change.

Learning objectives

Participants will be able to:

  1. Describe four key obstacles to delivery of effective, scalable post-disaster services
  2. Describe four ways that technology can help address obstacles to delivery of post-disaster services
  3. Describe five processes that can support recovery post-trauma



 “Rebuilding Social Connections:  A Skills for Psychological Recovery Intervention.” Dr. Josef Ruzek, National Center for PTSD

This workshop will focus on understanding the importance of social support in helping survivors during a post-disaster recovery and how to help survivors rebuild these connections.

Learning objectives

Participants will be able to:

1.  Describe three ways that social support interventions can strengthen post-disaster recovery

2. Describe steps of conducting Rebuilding Social Connections post-disaster intervention

3. Incorporate the Rebuilding Social Connections method into their delivery of post-disaster support 


“Lyme Disease and Co-infections: A Global Emerging Health Epidemic.” Dr. Richard Horowitz, NYT Best-Selling Author, Hudson Valley Healing Arts Center

This workshop will focus on the ever-increasing impacts of Lyme Disease, co-infections that may occur with transmission of Lyme Disease, strategies to treat tick-borne illnesses, and the ways in which tick-borne co-infections may lead to chronic illness.

Learning objectives

Participants will be able to:

1. Learn how to clinically diagnose tick-borne co-infections and understand the strengths and weaknesses of serological testing.

2. Learn different treatment strategies for treating tick-borne infections, including classical and integrative approaches.

3.Understand the biochemical and biological basis for the “sickness syndrome” seen in these patients with mutisystemic symptoms, and how inflammation produced by chronic infections underlies many of the common clinical manifestations. 

 4. Gain an understanding of how tick-borne co-infections may influence other chronic disease processes and manifestations, and lead to chronic illness.


“Phone/Texting Crisis Counseling in the Context of Climate Change.” Laurie Benblatt, MPH, MA, LPC, Disaster Distress Helpline 

This workshop will focus on the role of phone and text crisis counseling throughout preparedness, response and recovery efforts in disasters/emergencies.  This will include a description of how these efforts fill in a gap of services by reaching individuals/communities that may be experiencing emotional distress pre-event(s); in the immediate aftermath of an event; and by complementing on-the-ground support services once they become available. This workshop will also describe who may benefit from these services, the role crisis centers can play specific to weather related events and climate change, and suggestions for how they can be utilized in framework of emergency support functions to help mitigate emotional distress. 

Learning objectives

Participants will be able to:

1. Understand the role that phone/text crisis counseling plays throughout all phases of disasters; who the intended audiences are; and the key stakeholders involved in successful implementation

2. Learn the difference between local helplines, 211/311 services, and DDH as a national support line

3.  Review potential disaster behavioral/mental health consequences on those individuals and communities affected by disasters specific to climate change and weather-related events, and the role that phone/text crisis counseling plays throughout

4.  Engage in a small group tabletop exercise that will explore various scenarios and how call/text crisis centers can be utilized effectively to address disaster behavioral health in the larger context of disasters/emergencies.


“Exploring Online and Social Media Innovations that can Foster Effective Engagement on Climate Hazards and Other Environmental Risks.”  Andrew Revkin

This workshop will explore the impact that online and social media innovations can have on engagement in safety planning and risk communication.

Learning objectives

Participants will be able to:

1. Learn how Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms can foster collaborations among practitioners focused on boosting climate-resilience.

2. Understand how social media and video have been used to reduce public confusion and boost engagement on a variety of safety and disaster planning subjects, from asteroid impacts to earthquakes and climate hazards.

3. “Test drive” Twitter and/or Instagram to see how it might be used to increase their knowledge and innovation as risk communicators. 


"Disaster Resiliency Training for Care Providers" Jonathan Rosen

The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and the Substance Abuse and Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) have developed a draft training program for care providers designed to raise awareness about the significant impact exposure to traumatic events and stress may have on disaster workers and volunteers. 


Learning objectives

Participants will be able to:

1. Recognize behavioral risk factors in patients presenting following disasters.

2. Conduct an occupational interview to determine degree and type of exposures, protective measures employed, and employer sponsored interventions.

3. Use interventions that support coping mechanisms, community resources, and peer-centric support.

4. Determine which patients might require behavioral health specialty care.


Speaker Bios

Dr. Josef Ruzek is the director of the Dissemination and Training Division of the National Center for PTSD in the U.S. Veterans Health Administration. Dr. Ruzek specializes in early intervention to prevent the development of PTSD and co-authored the Psychological First Aid and Skills for Psychological Recovery field guides created jointly by the National Center for PTSD and the National Child Traumatic Stress Network. His current work focuses on dissemination of evidence-based cognitive-behavioral treatments for PTSD and development of Internet- and smartphone-based interventions for trauma survivors. He served as psychotherapy champion for the joint VA-Department of Defense Clinical Practice Guideline for Management of Traumatic Stress and edited two editions of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapies for Trauma as well as Caring for Veterans with Deployment-Related Stress Disorders: Iraq, Afghanistan, and Beyond. Dr. Ruzek is a past member of the Board of Directors of the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies.

Andrew Revkin is the senior fellow for environmental understanding at Pace University. He has been writing about environmental and social sustainability for more than three decades, from the Amazon to the White House to the Arctic, mainly for the New York Times. He has won the top awards in science journalism multiple times, along with a Guggenheim Fellowship. He has written on global warming science and solutions and energy issues since the 1980s. In 2003, he became the first Times reporter to file stories and photos from the sea ice around the Pole. He spearheaded a three-part Times series and one-hour documentary in 2005 on the transforming Arctic and another series, "The Climate Divide," on the uneven impacts of climate change.

Dr. George Luber is an epidemiologist and the associate director for climate change in the Division of Environmental Hazards and Health Effects at the National Center for Environmental Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Since receiving his Ph.D. in Medical Anthropology from the University of Georgia, and joining CDC in 2002, Dr. Luber has served as an Epidemic Intelligence Service Officer and staff epidemiologist at the National Center for Environmental Health. His research interests in Environmental Health are broad and include the health impacts of environmental change and biodiversity loss, harmful algal blooms, and the health effects of climate change.  Most recently, his work has focused on the epidemiology and prevention of heat-related illness and death, the application of remote sensing techniques to modeling vulnerability to heat stress in urban environments, and climate change adaptation planning.  In addition to managing the Climate Change Program at CDC, Dr. Luber is a Co-Chair of the Climate Change and Human Health Interagency Workgroup at the US Global Change Research Program, a Convening Lead Author for the US National Climate Assessment, a member of the American Anthropological Association’s Presidential Task Force on Climate Change, and a lead author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Fifth Assessment Report.  He is also Adjunct Professor in the Departments of Environmental Health, Anthropology, and Environmental Science at Emory University.

Dr. Nicole Lurie is the assistant secretary for preparedness and response (ASPR) at the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS). The ASPR serves as the secretary's principal adviser on matters related to bioterrorism and other public health emergencies. The mission of her office is to lead the nation in preventing, responding to and recovering from the adverse health effects of public health emergencies and disasters. As such, she coordinates interagency activities between HHS, other federal agencies, and state and local officials responsible for emergency preparedness and the protection of the civilian population from acts of bioterrorism and other public health emergencies.  

Previously, Dr. Lurie was a senior natural scientist and the Paul O’Neill Alcoa Professor of Health Policy at the RAND Corporation, where she directed RAND’s public health and preparedness work as well as its Center for Population Health and Health Disparities. Prior to that, she served as principal deputy assistant secretary of Health for HHS; in state government as medical adviser to the commissioner at the Minnesota Department of Health; and in academia as a professor at the University of Minnesota Schools of Medicine and Public Health. Dr. Lurie has a long history in the health services research field, primarily in the areas of access to and quality of care, mental health, prevention, public health infrastructure and preparedness, and health disparities.

Dr. Lurie attended college and medical school at the University of Pennsylvania, and completed her residency and MSPH at UCLA, where she was also a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholar. She served as senior editor for Health Services Research and as president of the Society of General Internal Medicine, as well as on numerous other national committees. She is the recipient of many awards, and is a member of the Institute of Medicine.

Finally, Dr. Lurie continues to practice clinical medicine in the health care safety net in Washington, D.C.

Dr. Richard Horowitz is a board certified internist in private practice in Hyde Park, N.Y. He is medical director of the Hudson Valley Healing Arts Center, an integrative medical center which combines both classical and complementary approaches in the treatment of Lyme disease and other tick-borne disorders. He has treated over 12,000 chronic Lyme disease patients from all over the U.S., Canada, and Europe in the last 26 years. Dr. Horowitz has presented at numerous local, national, and international scientific conferences on Lyme disease, and has published on the role of co-infections and toxins in Lyme borreliosis. His New York Times bestselling book, Why Can’t I Get Better? Solving the Mystery of Lyme and Chronic Disease, was released through St Martin’s press in November 2014, and explains his full classical and integrative approach to helping those stricken with tick borne diseases and resistant chronic illness.

Lauri Benblatt MPH, MA, LPC, is the program manager for the Disaster Distress Helpline. She has an extensive background working on local and global mental and public health initiatives. An internationally certified and licensed psychotherapist, she obtained her master’s degree in public health to further her career working with vulnerable and marginalized communities across global and local populations, including clinical work; program development/training; consultation and volunteer activities; and research and evaluation. She has worked in Zimbabwe, Haiti, South Africa, Brazil, and the U.S., and currently sits on an executive board for a small NGO, Tariro.

Jonathan Rosen, MS CIH, is a certified industrial hygienist for the National Clearinghouse for Worker Safety & Health Training. He has extensive experience in developing workplace trauma response programs, curriculum development, and is a primary author of the NIEHS/SAMHSA disaster resiliency training programs.