Disasters can occur in our natural environment, as with hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, floods, or fires and the like; or they can be humanly or mechanically generated, as for example with school shootings, an explosion in a building, or lab accidents that have mass impact.
What to Do
Your safety is the first priority. Some natural disasters, such as a flood, a fire, a tornado or a hurricane may require you to evacuate in order to get to a safe place. If mass evacuations are required, the Red Cross and other organizations will likely have set up a shelter for those who do not have other places to live temporarily. Even if you have other places to stay, these organizations can usually help with food, clothing and sometimes can assist with working with your insurance company.
Safety is also the first priority in a mass crime scene such as a school or workplace shooting. If you are directly involved in such an incident, do whatever you can to protect yourself. If you have a cell phone with you, call 911 as soon as you are able to do so safely. As soon as you are safely able to get away, leave the area of the crime scene. If you are not directly involved, but are hearing about such an event, it is important that you stay away from the scene of the incident, both for your own safety and to maximize the ability of first responders to do their jobs.
In many disaster situations, there is a chaotic environment in the immediate aftermath. Do your best to remain calm. It is common for people experiencing an intense situation to experience the fight, flight or freeze response. Your normal processes of judgment and thinking may be affected by the large number of hormones being “dumped” in your body, and you may find that you experience tunnel focus. All of these responses and others are normal in a potentially traumatic situation.
After the immediate disaster has ended, you may have questions about what your options are. Depending on the nature of the incident you may have specific needs such as emotional support, housing or academic concerns. Office of Victim Assistance (OVA) can offer free, confidential counseling and consultation on your options. 303-492-8855
If you have been physically injured and are unable to leave the scene of the disaster, it is important that (if you are able) you let first responders know about your condition and where you are located. If you have been injured but have been able to leave the scene, go to the nearest emergency room for treatment. Boulder Community Hospital is the closest hospital to CU-Boulder. If you are unsure if you have been injured, go to your doctor or to the emergency room for evaluation. Some injuries require immediate attention so don’t wait to get treatment or an evaluation if you can possibly avoid it.
Treatment and Support
Many people who have experienced a disaster--either because they have been directly impacted, because they have friends or family who have been directly impacted, or because hearing about the event was upsetting--benefit from counseling in the aftermath of the event. Some people experience impact from such events even if they haven’t experienced it directly themselves or known people who were impacted. We know that our earlier experiences of trauma can be triggered by current experiences of trauma. Regardless of the reason, if you find that you are experiencing increased anxiety, depression, difficulty concentrating, numbing or other uncomfortable feelings, you may benefit by seeking counseling to deal with the emotional impact of the event.
In many mass events, the Red Cross and other agencies have counselors available to talk with those impacted. Since disasters take many different forms, you may find that none of these descriptions fit with what you have been through, or how you’re reacting to the event. It may be of benefit to you to seek out individual counseling in order to discuss with a professional what you are experiencing. OVA offers short-term counseling and also has a list of therapists in the Boulder and Denver areas to whom we can refer if longer-term therapy is appropriate.
Depending on the type of the disaster, you may need to find alternative temporary or permanent housing. In mass events, the Red Cross can provide temporary shelter and help find alternative housing. OVA can discuss options for a change of housing in the Boulder area. CU’s Off-Campus Housing and Neighborhood Relations can help CU students seeking alternative housing at 303-492-7053. There may be limited availability for housing in the residence halls or at Bear Creek Apartments. Information about these options can be gained at Residence Life Occupancy Management at 303-492-6673.
Sometimes experiencing a disaster can lead to difficulty concentrating, or having the ability to focus on school or get to class. You deserve to be in school and to meet your academic and other goals. The OVA staff can discuss options for managing academic issues with you while maintaining privacy. If you wish, we may be able to notify your professors of the situation you are dealing with. There are concrete things the University can do to help you with your situation.
How to Help
Sometimes people, in the wake of a difficult or traumatic situation, can find it hard to assess their options, or even know where to begin. Friends, family and significant others can offer to listen, or do some of the basic footwork about what resources exist.
You may notice the person who has experienced a disaster having a variety of different feelings, or behaviors. They may seem tired and withdrawn, angry and irritable, or oddly energetic and outgoing. Let the person know what you notice about their behavior and express your concern. Consider referring them to a confidential and supportive resource like OVA.
If you know someone who has experienced a disaster:
- Remain calm. Encourage discussion about the trauma to the extent that the survivor feels comfortable to do so.
- Follow their lead. Use their language as much as possible to describe what happened and their feelings about it.
- Encourage the person to seek counseling from specially trained mental health professionals. The Office of Victim Assistance can be a resource.
- Help the person explore options and choices in their process of healing.
- Leave the control of decision-making up to the person.
- Acknowledge your own feelings of anger, concern, and sadness. Seek support for yourself to help process your own reactions to the trauma.
- Respect the person’s need for privacy and their desire to talk or not to talk about the details of the trauma.
- Overreact or escalate the situation.
- Under-react as this can be invalidating
- Judge or question the survivor’s response to the traumatic situation.
- Make decisions for them or take control from the person.
- Gossiping about what your friend has shared.
- Forgetting about yourself! Getting support for yourself will allow you to be more available for your friend or family member.
Emergency Management at CU-Boulder and in Boulder County
On CU-Boulder’s campus, Emergency Management (part of the Department of Public Safety) is responsible for the implementation, training, coordination and oversight of emergency management and business continuity plans and programs. Their website, http://police.colorado.edu/emergency-management, contains information about Emergency Information and Warnings, Emergency Management Resources, Emergency Plans and Procedures and other information. If you would like to know what is being done on the CU-Boulder campus about emergency planning, they are your best resource. Their phone number is 303-492-6820.
If there is a disaster which has taken place on the campus, in the city of Boulder, or in Boulder County, the Boulder Office of Emergency Management has up-to-the-minute updates on emergency status, as well as a wealth of helpful information at http://www.boulderoem.com/emergency-status. Their phone number is 303-441-3390.
Active Shooter Information and Video
There is information and a video about an active shooter situation on the University of Colorado Police Department website at http://police.colorado.edu/crime-prevention-safety/shots-fired-recommendations-active-harmers