Where an incident occurs matters, particularly when the incident is disastrous. Whether due to natural circumstances, human-caused violence, or a massive technological failure, the incident affects survivors differently depending on where it happens.
When an incident occurs among a group which shares a sense of belonging, whether because of work, education, or faith, survivors have a reason other than only their shared experience of the incident to come back together again. And in coming back together again, they must figure out what it means to conduct their mission again in the aftermath of what has happened.
When an incident occurs in a more open and public setting, such as a park, a concert arena, a festival, or a retail area, survivors often belong to a wide range of groups and they do not necessarily have a reason to come back together again other than their shared history.
The attention that second responders – including therapists, volunteer caregivers, chaplains, and faith leaders – give to this distinction can help expedite healing. A few things to keep in mind in providing care after disasters in public settings:
1. Survivors benefit greatly from gathering repeatedly with people with whom they feel a sense of belonging. This may include gathering with fellow survivors, while also gathering with family, friends, and coworkers. The challenge with gathering with family, friends, and coworkers, though, is that many of them struggle to understand what the survivor is going through if they did not also experience it. In these cases, it can help for friends, family, and coworkers to continue to listen well and value how the survivor they care about expresses what she or he is experiencing. It is not a matter of knowing what to say, but continuing to express a commitment to be present and care.
2. How does your organization attend to survivors' needs? Enough incidents have occurred in recent years that, likely, your business, nonprofit, school, or congregation has survivors or will have survivors in the coming years as they graduate, move, or find new work. Mental, emotional, and spiritual healing after disaster often takes years. Without forcing survivors to share their stories, consider ways your organization assumes the possibility that employees, students, customers, or congregants, may be survivors of disaster and may be somewhere in the midst of their long-term recovery process. For example, for employees, does your organization accommodate time off for survivors to attend survivors' gatherings for healing, which many survivors find helpful for their healing process? Or, does your school consider trauma-informed education practices when preparing syllabi or lesson plans? Or, does your house of worship provide opportunity for prayer, lament, or ministry related to long-term healing?
3. How does your caregiving practice accommodate long-term healing processes? Within the context of survivors often needing years to process through their mental, emotional, or spiritual health challenges following disaster, in what ways do you practice or are you developing methods for long-term caregiving? This may include practicing a mindset that helps you remain present to how survivors may be "in the midst" of healing. This may include providing a form of long-term therapy. This may include creating lesson plans or congregational calendar plans which keep in mind certain dates on the calendar that may be meaningful to survivors. These are just a few examples.
How are you or is your organization accommodating the needs of survivors of disaster? What practices do you find work best? Share your tips in the comments below.
From 2012-2020, this blog space explored the changing landscape of long-term care.