New York has been affected by several high profile pandemic and infectious diseases threats: SARS, Avian Bird Flu, H1N1, Ebola and now the Zika Virus. Even when no citizens are infected the fear of an outbreak and the preparation for a response to these threats affects New Yorkers.
Pandemic Disasters occur when a new disease begins to rapidly spread to a large number of people over a wide geographical area.
Infectious Diseases are caused by bacteria, viruses, parasites, and other microorganisms that can spread from one person to another.
Bioterrorism is an intentional release of a pathogen to cause illness, death, and/or panic.
These events have a critical impact on citizens and responders:
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. Conference attendees from these fields will learn to address the psychological aspects of these complex public health emergencies, which will reduce responder and community stress and increase response efficacy.
New York is a transportation hub in the US, with 20 major national and international airports, 3 commuter railroads serving 203 million people a year, 13 national rail lines, and thousands of bus routes. Although some accidents could involve responding to major hazmat spills/explosions, this conference will focus on events involving passengers. In recent years, New York State disaster workers have responded to plane, train, commuter ferry, and bus accidents and crashes. These events pose significant challenges for all responders.
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 next IDMH conference will focus neither on the “controversy” nor the often-promoted doom and gloom scenarios sometimes used to break through the defenses of those in denial. Instead it will focus 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 will describe 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 will be 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 is 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.
The 11th annual Institute for Disaster Mental Health conference on April 25, 2014, focused on how disaster response professionals can best communicate with community members to help them avoid or minimize their exposure to disaster, and to jumpstart their recovery when events do occur. Presentations and workshops addressed specific hazards and populations, with experts familiar with the challenges of message dissemination during complex and rapidly changing disasters.
The tenth annual IDMH training provided a timely and important opportunity for new information and recommendations to be presented and discussed, and incorporated into planning procedures for multiple organizations that would need to collaborate in any response. The training consisted of presenters from the New York State Office of Emergency Management, New York State Department of Mental Health, and New York State Department of Health, who presented perspectives, recommendations, and updates from their respective fields. By reviewing the diverse challenges and consequences of different types of radiological disasters, the whole community will become better prepared for future nuclear accidents or terrorists attacks involving radiation exposure and/or contamination.
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The ninth annual IDMH training focused on building capacity and resilience through effective stress management and self-care strategies. Disaster response, emergency management, and trauma work are intrinsically and uniquely stressful, and it is essential that the inherent occupational hazards be mitigated through proactive stress management approaches. The well-being of responders is closely tied to self-care and is paramount to the success of disaster preparedness, response, and recovery efforts. The care that responders provide to others can only be as good as the care they provide themselves. The training featured presenters who are experts on the interrelated work of mitigating the stress and maximizing the rewards of trauma work, on both individual and organizational levels. Each presenter discussed foundational concepts, current research and recommended practices, and lessons learned from their experiences in the field.
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This spring, mental health professionals, emergency managers, and others nationwide are anticipating the ten-year anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. To help prepare for both 9/11 commemorative events and future disasters, a careful review of lessons learned over the past decade was the focus of the 8th annual IDMH conference and training. Please visit the conference website for further details and to access handouts of Powerpoint presentations from the training.
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One of the most effective evidence-based treatments for PTSD is Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT), a 12-session cognitive behavioral treatment. CPT is predominantly a cognitive therapy that can be implemented with or without a smaller exposure component than imaginal exposure therapy and is therefore more acceptable to many clients and practitioners seeking alternatives to purely exposure-focused treatments. It also directly targets associated problems such as depression, guilt, and anger. Originally developed for rape and sexual assault, CPT has been successfully applied to veterans, refugees, and survivors of other traumas. This two-day professional training in Cognitive Processing Therapy was sponsored by the New York State Office of Mental Health and was led by the developer of CPT, Patricia A. Resick, Ph.D., Director of the Women’s Health Sciences Division of the National Center for PTSD at the VA Boston Healthcare System. A training package including DVD-ROM recordings of the entire event, training manual, and other materials is available for purchase; see the Training page for details.
This conference promoted disaster preparedness and planning to support those health and mental health providers, emergency management personnel, spiritual care providers, first responders and community responders who will be providing assistance to survivors and their families during the early aftermath of disasters. A growing body of evidence indicates that delivering appropriate mental health interventions such as psychological first aid and psychoeducation in the immediate aftermath of disasters can help to prevent serious sequelae in those impacted. Additionally, effective screening methods can help responders direct limited longer-term mental health resources to those who need them most.
Most soldiers returning to civilian life will experience only brief periods of difficulty. Others, however, will demonstrate high rates of emotional distress both immediately and even long after their wartime experiences. Although many returning veterans will be treated in VA hospitals, others seek treatment from mental health practitioners outside of the VA system, sometimes months or years after homecoming. It is clear that all mental health professionals need to provide up- to- date therapeutic interventions to work productively with these veterans. This Conference provided mental health helpers with the latest evidence-informed best practices for assisting returning service personnel experiencing stress reactions by highlighting a number of long-term treatments.
The 2007 conference highlighted a number of approaches to improve the quality and availability of services for mass trauma survivors in the seven-county Hudson Valley region by focusing on disaster preparedness. Day 1 featured a film screening of “When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts.” On Day 2, keynote speaker Darlene Sparks Washington, Ph.D., of the American Red Cross addressed “Creating a Culture of Preparedness.” Panel discussion and professional workshop topics included: Planning Disaster Response in the Mid-Hudson Valley, Pandemic Flu, Emergency Management, and Counseling First Responders.
As we approached the fifth anniversary of the attacks of September 11, the 2006 conference focused on long-term treatment for trauma/disaster survivors experiencing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and complicated or traumatic grief reactions. Keynote speakers were Monica McGoldrick, LCSW, on “Traumatic Loss in Context” and Joann Difede, Ph.D., on “Innovative Treatments for Trauma Survivors.” Professional workshops topics included: Fostering Resilience in Children; Psychological First Aid; and Compassion Satisfaction/Compassion Fatigue.
Keynote speaker John R. Tassey, Ph.D., discussed “The Oklahoma City Bombing: Reflections Ten Years Later.” Panel discussion and professional workshops topics included: Mental Health Response to Disaster, Early Interventions and Debriefing Debate, Psychological First Aid, Long Term Treatment of Traumatic Stress Reactions, and Vicarious Traumatization and Self-Care.
This initial conference introduced the academic and professional communities to the latest issues, techniques, and concerns in disaster mental health. The keynote speaker was Gerard Jacobs, Ph.D., on “Current Developments in Disaster Mental Health.” Afternoon panel topics included Interventions, Spiritual Care, Cultural Competency, Treating Uniformed Services Personnel, and Working with Schools.