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The emotional toll that disaster brings can sometimes be even more devastating than the financial strains of damage and loss of home, business or personal property. 

Children and the elderly are special concerns in the aftermath of disasters.  Even individuals who experience a disaster second hand through exposure to extensive media coverage can be affected. 

Crisis counseling programs often include community outreach, consultation, and education.  FEMA the state and local mental health agencies can provide crisis-counseling assistance to help people cope with and recover from disaster. If you feel you need assistance-get help. 

Coping with disaster
You need to be aware of signs that one needs help in coping with the stress of a disaster.

  1. Things to remember when trying to understand disaster events.
    • No one who sees a disaster is untouched by it. 
    • It is normal to feel anxious about your own safety and that of your family and close friends.  
    • Profound sadness, grief and anger are normal reactions to an abnormal event. 
    • Acknowledging your feelings helps you recover. 
    • Focusing on your strengths and abilities will help you to heal. 
    • Accepting help from community programs and resources is healthy. 
    • We each have different needs and different ways of coping. 
    • It is common to want to strike back at people who have caused great pain. However, nothing good is accomplished by hateful language or actions.
  2. Signs that adults need crisis counseling/stress management assistance.
    • Difficulty communicating thoughts.
    • Difficulty sleeping. 
    • Difficulty maintaining balance. 
    • Easily frustrated. 
    • Increased use of drugs/alcohol. 
    • Limited attention span. 
    • Poor work performance. 
    • Headaches/stomach problems. 
    • Tunnel vision/muffled hearing. 
    • Colds or flu-like symptoms. 
    • Disorientation or confusion. 
    • Difficulty concentrating. 
    • Reluctance to leave home. 
    • Depression, sadness. 
    • Feelings of hopelessness. 
    • Mood-swings and crying easily.
    • Overwhelming guilt and self-doubt. 
    • Fear of crowds, strangers, or being alone. 
  3. Ways to ease disaster related stress.
    • Talk with someone about your feelings, anger, sorrow, and other emotions, even though it may be difficult. 
    • Seek help from professional counselors who deal with post-disaster stress.
    • Don't hold yourself responsible for the disastrous event or be frustrated because you feel that you cannot help directly in the rescue work. 
    • Take steps to promote your own physical and emotional healing by staying active in your daily life patterns or by adjusting them.  This healthy outlook will help you and your household (e.g., healthy eating, rest, exercise, relaxation, meditation). 
    • Maintain a normal household and daily routine, limiting demanding responsibilities of you and your household. 
    • Spend time with family and friends. 
    • Participate in memorials, rituals, and use of symbols as a way to express feelings. 
    • Use existing support groups of family, friends, and church. 
    • Establish a family emergency plan.  Feeling there is something you can do can be very comforting.

Helping children cope with disaster
Disasters can leave children feeling frightened, confused and insecure.  Whether a child has personally experienced trauma, or has seen the event on television or heard it discussed by adults, it is important for parents and teachers to be informed and ready to help if reactions to stress begin to occur.

Children respond to trauma in many different ways.  Some may have reactions very soon after the event; others may seem to be doing fine for weeks or months and then begin to show worrisome behavior.  Knowing the signs that are common at different ages can help parents and teachers recognize problems and respond appropriately.

Reassurance is the key to helping children through a traumatic time.  Very young children need a lot of cuddling, as well as verbal support.  Answer questions about the disaster honestly, but don't dwell on frightening details or allow the subject to dominate family or classroom time indefinitely.  Encourage children of all ages to express emotions through conversation, drawing or painting and to find a way to help others who were affected by the disaster.  Also, limit the amount of disaster related material (television, etc.) your children are seeing or hearing and pay careful attention to how graphic it is.

Try to maintain a normal household or classroom routine and encourage children to participate in recreational activity.  Reduce your expectations temporarily about performance in school or at home, perhaps by substituting less demanding responsibilities for normal chores.

Additional information about how to communicate with children can be found on the FEMA for Kids website.

Helping others
The compassion and generosity of the American people is never more evident than after a disaster.  People want to help.  Here are some general guidelines on helping others after a disaster.

  1. In addition to the people you care for on a day-to-day basis, consider the needs of your neighbors and people with special needs.  
  2.  If you want to volunteer, check with the City of Westminster Volunteer Program Coordinator or other local organizations or listen to local news reports for information about where volunteers are needed.  Until volunteers are specifically requested, stay away from disaster areas.
  3. If you are involved as a volunteer through the City of Westminster or other formal organizations, bring your own food, water and emergency supplies.  This is especially important in cases where a large area has been affected and emergency items are in short supply.
  4. Do not drop off food, clothing or any other item to a government agency or disaster relief organization unless a particular item has been requested.  Normally these organizations do not have the resources to sort through the donated items. 
  5.  You can give a check or money order to a recognized disaster relief organization.  These groups are organized to process checks, purchase what is needed and get it to the people who need it most.
  6. If your company wants to donate emergency supplies, donate a quantity of a given item or class of items (such as nonperishable food) rather than a mix of different items.  Also, determine where your donation is going, how it's going to get there, who's going to unload it and how it's going to be distributed.  Without sufficient planning, much needed supplies will be left unused.
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