When I was in kindergarten, the OKC Murrah Building was blown up by a bomb. This experience was quite shocking for me, but since it was not in my town, I was not nearly as affected by this disaster as Carlene Pinto. When Pinto was in middle school, she watched the second World Trade Center Tower crash to the ground and then walked home as paperwork and dust fell from the sky all around her. Lindsay Yates was another young child who saw disaster strike her hometown when Hurricane Fran killed 24 people in her state. What do we three women have in common besides tragic events in our childhoods? We could all study disaster mental health at SUNY New Paltz.
The university is one of many schools that are now offering programs that focus on emergency management and disaster response. This new trend is in direct response to the numerous catastrophes that have plagued our nation and the world in recent years. In 2001, there were only about 70 emergency-management programs in the USA; today, that number is more than 230.
“This generation has never known a time without terrorism or disaster, and I think it has drawn many of them to this field,” said Karla Vermeulen of the Institute for Disaster Mental Health. “They were 10 at the time of 9/11 and 14 during Katrina, and it’s really shaped them.”
Some of the disasters that students who are studying this new field might encounter include the earthquake in Haiti, the tsunami in Japan, and the many terrorism acts that have frightened humans around the world. There are new disasters occurring almost every month, which provides interesting curriculum for the students and teachers.
“It’s a moving target,” said Vermeulen. “You’re watching the news in the morning and figuring out, ‘How am I going to incorporate the last disaster into my teaching?’”
So what exactly would you do with a disaster mental health degree? Many graduates who study this field hope to work for both nonprofit organizations and for-profit corporations with the goal of creating plans for continuing operations after a disaster.
In addition to attending classes, students at SUNY New Paltz also receive real-life experiences in emergency management. After Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, the institute’s director – Dr. James Halpern – took students to the city that was in crisis to offer support and assistance.
“A lot of people were concerned that the students might not be mature enough or responsible enough or old enough,” said Halpern. “But what I found out was, what they didn’t have in experience, they made up for in enthusiasm, idealism and common sense.”
In a world were disasters cannot be avoided, it seems like it would be a great idea for more people to be trained in handling these situations and the mental health of those people who are involved in these situations.
Via The NY Times