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Tips for Responding After a Disaster
Instructor: Dr. Dawn-Elise Snipes PhD, LPC-MHSP, LMHC
Executive Director: AllCEUs Counseling CEUs and Specialty Certificates
Podcast Host: Counselor Toolbox, Happiness Isn’t Brain Surgery

The Counseling CEU course for this presentation can be found at:

~ Review common reactions to disaster and interventions
~ Identify common stressors in shelters
~ Identify common issues when sheltering in place
~ Explore how to help reduce stress and anxiety through
~ Facilitated and independent activities
~ Facilitated groups
Disaster Response
~ Acute stress is a NORMAL reaction to an ABNORMAL event
~ The majority of people will recover with no long-term effects
Sheltering in Place
~ Common Stressors
~ Anxiety about the situation and your safety
~ Concern about loved ones who are elsewhere
~ Feelings of isolation, loneliness, sadness or boredom
~ Guilt about not being able to perform normal duties or help out
~ Fear over loss of income/cost of repairs
~ Changes to sleeping and eating patterns
Disaster Response: Shelters
~ People who are in shelters
~ Have suffered a trauma (loss of control/sense of helplessness)
~ May experience significant losses (possessions, pets)
~ May not know where some of their loved ones are
Additional Stressors in Shelters
~ Environment that is
~ crowded/noisy/overstimulating
~ less secure than home
~ Poor sleep: Routine, Safety, Ergonomics
~ Pain
~ Nutritional changes
~ Additional caffeine and nicotine
~ Ambiguity about what lies ahead
~ Boredom/time to dwell
Common Responses in Adults & Adolescents
~ Difficulty communicating thoughts
~ Difficulty sleeping
~ Difficulty with balance in life
~ Low threshold of frustration
~ Increased use of drugs/alcohol
~ Limited attention span & poor work performance
~ Headaches/stomach problems
~ Colds or flu-like symptoms
~ Disorientation or confusion
~ Difficulty concentrating
~ Reluctance to leave home
~ Depression, sadness, hopelessness
~ Mood-swings
~ Overwhelming guilt
~ Fear of crowds, strangers, or being alone
~ Argumentativeness / refusing to follow rules / being overly controlling

Common Responses in Children
~ Birth through 2 years.
~ Irritability
~ Crying more than usual
~ Wanting to be held and cuddled
~ Regression to an earlier age (crawling, mama-dada)
~ The biggest influence on children of this age is how their parents cope.
Common Responses in Children
~ Preschool – 3 through 6 years.
~ Preschool children often feel helpless and powerless in the face of an overwhelming event. Because of their age and small size, they lack the ability to protect themselves or others. As a result, they feel intense fear and insecurity about being separated from caregivers.
~ Preschoolers cannot grasp the concept of permanent loss.
~ In the weeks following a traumatic event, preschoolers’ play activities may reenact the incident or the disaster over and over again.
Common Responses in Preschool cont…
~ Crying/Depression
~ Inability to concentrate
~ Bedwetting
~ Withdrawal and isolation
~ Thumbsucking
~ Not wanting to attend school
~ Nightmares
~ Headaches

~ Clinging/fear of being left alone
~ Changes in eating and sleeping habits
~ Regression to previous behaviors
~ Excessive fear of darkness or storms
~ Fighting
~ Increase in physical complaints
Common Responses in School Children
~ School age – 7 through 10 years.
~ The school-age child can understand the permanence of loss
~ Some children become intensely preoccupied with the details of a traumatic event and want to talk about it continually
~ This preoccupation
~ Can interfere with the child’s concentration at school
~ Prompt irritability from adults
~ Children may hear inaccurate information from peers/media

Common Responses in School Children
~ School age – 7 through 10 years.
~ They may display a wide range of reactions —
~ Sadness
~ Generalized fear, or specific fears of the disaster happening again
~ Guilt over action or inaction during the disaster
~ Anger that the event was not prevented
~ Fantasies of playing rescuer
~ Regression to earlier behaviors
~ Irritability
~ Oppositional behavior to distract or get secure limits
~ Prepare a go-bag with essentials
~ Remember medication, razors, brush/comb, toothbrush/toothpaste, cell phone/charger, pillow, security items for kids
~ Stop media overload leading up to, during and after the incident
~ Keep routines as stable as possible
~ Practice mindfulness each day —personally and as a family
~ When communicating, validate each other’s feelings and identify a tangible solution
~ Try to replace “buts” with “ands”
Other Interventions for Children
~ Personal contact is reassuring.
~ Calmly provide factual information about the recent disaster and current plans for insuring their safety along with recovery plans.
~ Encourage your children to talk about and own their feelings.
~ Spend extra time with your children such as at bedtime.
~ Involve your children by giving them specific chores to help them feel they are helping to restore family and community life.
~ Praise and recognize responsible behavior.


Other Interventions for Children
~ Understand that children have a range of reactions to disasters.
~ Reassure the child frequently that you are safe and together.
~ Allow children to grieve about their lost treasures; a toy, a blanket, a lost home.
~ Try to spend extra time together in family activities to begin replacing fears with pleasant memories.
~ If your child is having problems at school, talk to the teacher so that you can work together to help your child.
~ Talk with your child about what you will do if another disaster strikes. Let your child help in preparing and planning for future disasters. Turn shouldas into next times.


Sheltering Games
~ Go Fish / Card Games
~ Solitaire
~ Tic-Tac-Toe
~ Hang Man
~ Charades
~ I spy
~ Mobile device games: Checkers, scrabble, chess, Angry Birds…
~ Tell jokes (knock-knock apps)
~ Coloring books / Coloring
~ Word-finds / Crosswords / Sudoku


Encourage Routine
~ Lights up and out at the same time each night
~ Start the day with mindfulness and planning
~ Meals at the same time
~ In large shelters divide the groups into A-B-C Each group gets to go first for one meal each day
~ Physical activity: Walking, calisthenics, stretching…
~ Kids: Duck-Duck-Goose, put on kids music and encourage dancing, have them do a performance for the shelter
~ Chores each day in your “zone”

~ Have “quiet spaces” – Visual and auditory
~ Ear plugs / headphones
~ Encourage awareness of space
~ Keep it smelling good


~ Goal Identification and Radical Acceptance
~ Goal Identification
~ What things, people and experiences are most meaningful to you?
~ What values are most important to you?
~ Radical Acceptance
~ What has happened cannot be changed
~ How you feel right now is how you feel
~ What can you do to improve the next moment and move closer to your goals and embodying the values you hold dear?
Groups: Distress Tolerance

~ Imagery
~ Meaning
~ Prayer
~ Relaxation
~ One thing in the moment
~ Vacation
~ Encouragement


~ Activities
~ Contribute
~ Compare
~ Emotions (Happy)
~ Pushing Away
~ Thoughts (Happy)
~ Sensations

~ Hardiness
~ Commitment
~ What things in your life make it worth living?
~ What are you committed to?
~ Control
~ What parts of your life/this situation do you have control over
~ Challenge
~ How have you dealt with problems in the past?
~ What challenges do you now face and how can you approach them?
~ Understanding Anger and Irritability
~ Natural response to threats and stress
~ “Fight or Flee”
~ Anger pushes people away or gives you power over them and may reduce stimulation
~ When you get angry
~ Are you angry at the person, the situation or yourself?
~ Anger tells you to do something. How can you improve the next moment?
~ When someone gets angry at you, reflect on whether it is because of you, the situation or their stuff.

7-Habits in Shelters
~ Be proactive seeing alternatives and opportunities not roadblocks (Anger is often a sign of a feeling of powerlessness)
~ Being with the end in mind, defining a win-win with practical and realistic outcomes.
~ Put first things first recognizing that some things are not worth the energy or effort and other things like your health and family are more important
7-Habits in Shelters
~ Seek first to understand the other persons point of view and the whole situation then to be understood
~ Synergize to use each person’s strengths
~ Sharpen the saw—Encourage each person to take time for relaxation and recreation each day and practice positive health behaviors to prevent vulnerabilities
~ After a disaster people will experience distress
~ There are certain things that can be done to reduce stress whether sheltering in place or at a public shelter
~ Maintenance of routines is vital
~ Prevention of vulnerabilities through proper nutrition, sleep and activity can help reduce stress
~ Radical acceptance and goal directed activity can help people choose responses that will better assist them in reducing their distress