If you really listen, survivors and emergency responders will tell you what they need – CU Boulder Today

If you really listen, survivors and emergency responders will tell you what they need – CU Boulder Today

Lori Peek is a sociologist at CU Boulder who has spent more than two decades listening to the stories of the survivors of disasters from 9/11 to Hurricane Katrina. 

Peek also has reminders of her own close brush with wildfires. In October 2020, she and her family fled their house in northwest Boulder County as the Calwood Fire closed in. Her home survived, but she can see the foundations of many of the houses that didn’t from the window of her home office.

Lori Peek surveys the damage from Hurricane Matthew in 2016. (Credit: Lori Peek)

“I’ve spent my whole career learning about disasters directly from survivors, but that was the first time that I had ever had to flee in the face of a fire,” said Peek, director of the Natural Hazards Center at CU Boulder.

The experience drove home what she already knew from interviewing young people and others who had lived through Hurricane Katrina and the Joplin tornado: Natural hazards, even near misses, can leave a lasting impact on the mental health of survivors. Disasters also don’t harm people in isolation. The most vulnerable people in a society, including people experiencing poverty or racial discrimination, tend to take the biggest brunt. Over time, those hits can begin to stack on top of each other—something Peek has seen in Boulder County, which, in the span of a single year, experienced a pandemic, a mass shooting and now the Marshall Fire. 

“Most people with the proper supports can and do recover from disasters,” Peek said. “But there is always a segment of the population that suffers emotionally over the long term. There is growing recognition that we need additional mental health support for survivors after a disaster.”

Peek noted that survivors of events, such as the Marshall Fire, may experience “the long tail of disaster-related trauma.” Survivors, Peek said, continue to feel the toll from a natural disaster long after the TV cameras and disaster relief groups are gone. 

“For those of us who aren’t affected, our lives quickly return to normal,” said Peek. “But disaster survivors are in this for the long haul. Continuing to listen to them and support them in the long term is so crucial.”

More information

Fire support resources

We know many of our students, faculty and staff have been affected by the Marshall Fire, and our university will do everything we can to provide support. In the coming days, we will add resources and updates to this page as they become available

Ways to support yourself and each other through a traumatic event

Whatever you may be going through, it’s important to show yourself and others compassion when dealing with difficult or traumatic situations. Here are a few things you can do to support yourself and your fellow Buffs through challenging times. 

The five Ps, plus compassion

To prepare for disasters like floods or wildfires, Peek urges Coloradans to follow the “five Ps”: pets, possessions, paperwork, packing and people. She added that before you try to help after a disaster, …….

Source: https://www.colorado.edu/today/2022/01/13/if-you-really-listen-survivors-and-emergency-responders-will-tell-you-what-they-need