The goal of this section is to provide some tips for public safety workers and their family members to help cope with a large-scale disaster or other traumatic experience.

In general, this section will provide information that most responders will find helpful, regardless of departmental or job affiliation. Please note that we have included the military as "responders" as well, because in some instances, military personnel have acted as first responders in recent disasters. For additional tips and strategies for specific responder communities, please click here.

Disaster-Related Challenges

Through our work with departments and public safety personnel across the country, we have noted similar challenges that most responders and their families face with regard to disasters. In response, we seek to highlight some of these challenges in the hopes that you and your family will recognize these issues and, if needed, do something positive about them.

Disasters often bring about a number of challenges that responders and their families may not face in their normal, everyday lives. Dealing with reactions to the added stress, workload, trauma, and other challenges that a disaster brings can be difficult. Recent studies regarding the experience of first responders document that post-disaster difficulties can be long-lasting. While recovery from a disaster response is predictably challenging, it can be improved by supporting positive coping skills and seeking professional help, when needed.

In general, emergency responders and their family members who experienced the trauma of 9/11 recommend the following tips to assist in coping post-disaster:

  • Take some time to think about what you've been through.
  • Talk about your experiences with coworkers, a trusted friends or family members.
  • Do something that helps you relax, such as fishing, hiking, gardening, listening to music, etc.
  • Get some exercise and "work off" some of the stress.
  • Try and get back into a normal routine when you can.
  • Get some sleep and eat good meals.
  • Spend time with people you care about.
  • Seek professional help if reactions are severe or interfering with work.

Responders to recent large-scale disasters such as 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina have highlighted a number of more significant disaster-related challenges that can impact anyone in public safety. Below, we have highlighted some of these challenges. For further information on any of these subjects, please click on the appropriate link.

Click on the appropriate link for more information for each category.

Incident Pre-Planning: One of the best ways public safety workers can assist their own family members during times of disaster is to be prepared and have a family Incident Pre-Plan in place beforehand. To read more about creating an Incident Pre-Plan for families of emergency services and military personnel, click here.

Cumulative Stress: Cumulative stress is an issue for many emergency services personnel. It is a topic that frequently comes up in our work with first responders. To learn more about cumulative stress and some helpful coping strategies, click here.

Depression: Depression is a serious medical illness that can impact military personnel, emergency service personnel and their family members. If not properly treated, depression can lead to serious complications. To read more about depression, click here.

Suicide Prevention: Stress from routine incident response, organizational challenges, and traumatic events can create an overwhelming environment for emergency service and military personnel. In some instances, the stressors can lead to suicidal thoughts or actions. To read more about suicide prevention for emergency service and military personnel, click here.