Psychological Support Agency
Emergencies and catastrophic events bring suffering and damage to communities. These problems are coupled with psychological issues that can have lasting effects on the citizens of these areas and create discontinuity within communities. Groups such as the Red Cross and FEMA are often the first response teams at a national level. These agencies are designed to deal with assisting with physical recovery of people and property when disasters strike but they are not equipped to deal with the psychological aftermath of these catastrophes.
Disasters have severe psychological consequences. The psychological wounds may be less visible than the destruction of homes and physical infrastructure, but it often takes far longer to recover from the psychological and emotional
consequences of disasters than to recuperate material losses (Red Cross, 2001).
The real issue is that psychological issues present barriers to communities and individuals becoming active survivors and as a result, these individuals and communities take longer to recover creating increased strain on resources. Serving the psychological need of those impacted by disasters provides the means to facilitate faster recovery and return to normal functioning for communities and individuals (Public Health Emergency, 2014). In order to accomplish this a psychological support agency is proposed that would work in conjunction with agencies such as FEMA and the Red Cross. A new agency named Back to Center (BTC) will be formed in order to assist FEMA and the Red Cross during emergencies.
The agency will be comprised of several hundred employees as well as and additional 1000 standby employees and volunteers. The agency size is modeled on the FEMA system which is comprised of 14,844 full-time employees and approximately 4,000 standby disaster assistance employees (FEMA, 2014). The need for this agency size is to facilitate deployment of teams throughout the US and the world after a disaster strikes (FEMA, 2014).
Qualifications and Skills
Employees will be comprised of support staff and field workers that will need to be counseling and psychological professionals. Teams consisting of a leader (psychologist) and 10 counselors will be deployed to emergency areas based on population size. One team per 1000 person population of the area will work in conjunction with volunteers. All members must have psychological background which will mean a heavy reliance on local capacities:
The “bedrock” of almost all psychological support programmes presented in the case studies are locally recruited volunteers. With training and support from mental health professionals, volunteers can work in an independent, efficient and effective manner (Red Cross, 2001).
The use of individualized counseling will not be efficient or practical in emergency situations. The key services provided will be the building of support networks within the communities. Communities are resilient and have the capacity to help themselves and in orer to facilitate this feature, teams will establish community networks providing structure and leadership for groups to meet and share issues. This group structure is based on the group dynamics of group therapy sessions which provide the ability for groups to empower the individual through shared experience. These systems have proven to be effective in many different situations such as in the aftermath of human genocide that took place in Kosovo in the 1990s (Red Cross, 2001). Support networks were able to help facilitate a return to normal life and to help the communities to move on from the trauma they experienced.
Key Components and Mission
The Mission of BTC will be:
To provide psychological support and care in the form of network and community systems to facilitate the return to normal functioning of these communities.
The key components of the BTC agency will be deployment, organization, and implementation of support networks in affected areas. When emergencies strike, teams will be deployed to work within the affected communities establishing centers for meetings and support. Volunteers will be recruited locally and strategies for centers such as meeting times, structure, and additional services will be mapped. Networks will be guided through the implementation and structured to operate independently. One of the key objectives in this mission will be to leverage local capacities by encouraging volunteers and focusing surrounding unaffected areas to become participants in the volunteer process for creating support networks.
In emergencies where national organizations are utilized, BTC will provide support for both communities but also for first responders. In the aftermath of 9/11, most responders were able to overcome the impacts of the catastrophe within a year using support groups. However, networks must take into account the large numbers of volunteers that are also impacted. These groups often need more assistance for longer periods. This factor was revealed after 9/11:
…many of the first responders and long-term cleanup workers seem to have largely recovered psychologically. But one group of workers has curiously not followed this trend: retired firefighters. In some studies, they seemed to have an increased prevalence of PTSD as time went on (Harmon, 2011).
Some 22 percent of retired firefighters who responded on 9/11 were still suffering from PTSD some four and six years after the event, according to research published earlier this year in Public Health Reports (Harmon, 2011).
BTC will need to connect with other agencies both for the purpose of providing civilian services but also to provide support for other agency members.
BTC is meant to be an adjunct agency operating alongside FEMA and the Red Cross to provide psychological services for emergencies. BTC is modeled on the FEMA and Red Cross systems of organization as these systems are the largest and most efficient organizations that deal with emergencies (American Red Cross, 2014). The BTC is a first response organization for many different forms of disasters and will provide assistance for recovering individuals and families through support network construction within affected areas. As well as being a first response organization the BTC will also assist with preparation and planning for emergencies by developing psychological network infrastructure planning as part of the overall emergency planning for communities.
BTC will also work in conjunction with (FEMA). FEMA and BTC can work by providing the necessary planning as well as the first response services (FEMA, 2014). Facilitating and implementing services will require the building of local capacities for volunteers and services. In order to accomplish its mission, BTC will need to form partnerships that involve law enforcement, firefighting and EMS agencies, as well as other public safety agencies at all levels of government (Public Health Emergency, 2014). These services will be in addition to private partnerships such as professional mental health services.
American Red Cross. (2014). Who we are. Retrieved from American Red Cross
FEMA. (2014). Mission. Retrieved from FEMA: https://www.fema.gov/about-agency
Harmon, K. (2011, September 10). The Changing Mental Health Aftermath of 9/11–Psychological “First Aid” Gains Favor over Debriefings. Retrieved from Scientific American
Public Health Emergency. (2014). Public Health and Medical Services Support. Retrieved from Public Health Emergency
Red Cross. (2001). Psychological Support: Best Practices from Red Cross and Red Crescent Programmes. International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. Red Cross.