National Rural Behavioral Health Centre

In addition to natural disasters, communities must now prepare for the possibility of man-made disasters, such as workplace or school violence, terrorism, and even bioterrorism. Following the events of September 11th it became apparent that mental health response plans are a crucial element in preparing for terrorist and bioterrorist attacks. Although many state and local governments have developed preparedness plans for future attacks, many of these plans place more emphasis on medical aspects of a terrorist or bioterrorist attack. According to mental health experts, "The nation has done too little to prepare for the terror in terrorism - the fear, panic, and misinformation that could spread after a biological attack …" (Associated Press, November 20, 2002).

Since the mid-1990s, faculty in the National Rural Behavioral Health Center have been invited to assist communities responding to the mental health effects of natural and man-made disasters including Hurricane Andrew in Florida, the Red River floods in the Midwest, drought and wildfires in the southeast and far west, and most recently the September 11th terrorist attacks. As a result of experiences with Hurricane Andrew and the Red River floods, Drs. Garret Evans and Sam Sears, Departments of Clinical and Health Psychology and Family, Youth, and Community Sciences, developed the curriculum Triumph Over Tragedy: A Community Response to Managing Post-Disaster Stress. This curriculum was originally designed for Extension professionals, healthcare professionals, and other disaster response workers who play an integral role in helping a community prepare for, respond to, and recover following a disaster. NRBHC faculty have traveled to various states training health providers, mental health specialists, EMS personnel, policy makers, and teachers regarding the mental health effects of disasters, school violence, and other critical events.

The NRBHC's faculty and staff are currently expanding the original Triumph Over Tragedy curriculum to include community-wide mental health approaches to terrorism and bioterrorism, with a special focus on the needs of rural communities. Our goal is to develop materials to train key community leaders, first responders, and mental health professionals regarding the mental health aspects of disasters and terrorism. But firstly, we must all be aware that it starts from the home. It is a known fact that people who participate in terrorism condone domestic violence. The expanded curriculum will contain information on individual and community psychological reactions following a disaster or terrorism event, strategies for helping communities prepare for and respond to critical events, strategies for supporting individual community members in the wake of a disaster, and the long-term recovery process for individuals and communities.