Resiliency forum explores emotional recovery

Soldiers clear debris from last summer’s flooding. Photo by NY National Guard CC BY-ND 2.0

Disasters such as last summer’s flooding can affect people in ways that may not be as obvious as the physical damage to property.

“People who experience disaster experience extreme stress: physical, emotional, cognitive, behavioral, spiritual,” Dr. James Halpern of the Institute of Disaster Mental Health at the State University of New York College at New Paltz said in his keynote presentation at the Community Resiliency Forum held Feb. 28th at Fulton-Montgomery Community College. “People are not thinking clearly. That’s why we have to communicate clearly.”

The event was co-sponsored by Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, state Sen. Cecilia Tkaczyk, D-Duanesburg, and the American Red Cross. Its purpose was to highlight ways the affected communities could help themselves recover from disasters such as Superstorm Sandy or the floods spawned by Hurricanes Irene and Lee.

“In the aftermath of a trauma, our whole way of thinking about things is changed,” Halpern said. “What can we do to help people feel safe and to promote calm? We need to help people regain control and promote connectiveness.”

Halpern defined resilience as “how well we bounce back, recover and return to routine.”

The elements of resilience include leadership, collective efficacy, social trust, place attachment and preparedness, he said.

“There’s some luck involved, but there’s planning work we can do,” he said. “It’s important to plan for low-probability, high-impact events. Things we never imagine happening, have happened.”

As examples, he cited the shootings in Newtown, CT, and the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

He also said the weather in the northeast is unique and potentially dangerous.

“We have the worst and most extreme weather in the world.,” he said. “We have a tornado season, a wildfire season and a hurricane season. No other country has them.”

In his opening remarks, Santabarbara acknowledged that the path to recovery is long and difficult.

“It takes the effort and commitment of an entire community to rebuild,” he said.. “We need to identify the strong points in a recovery effort as well as areas we need to improve. Many businesses are up and running again, but there is still much to be done.”

Tkaczyk said she was looking forward to hearing from participants in the forum.

“It’s really important to come together and get things done,” she said.

Montgomery County Executive Matthew Ossenfort stressed a theme he had articulated in his State of the County presentation earlier in the day.

“This is about cooperation and collaboration,” he said. “We need to be unified.”

John Becker

John Becker is both a Reporter and Consulting Editor for The Compass. He and his wife Pat operate Abbey Farms in Amsterdam NY.