Nine months later

BY SUSAN KIM | BALTIMORE | June 18, 2002

"This whole tragedy was a violation of public trust. . ."

—Bill Sage

How is Sept. 11 like Hurricane Andrew? It's a riddle national disaster responders are still trying to answer.

Both events are considered permanent catalysts for

change in national disaster response.

In the wake of Hurricane Andrew in 1992, federal aid

disbursement got rewritten, federal material donation

specialists were hired, and evacuation routes became

better mapped. Faith-based disaster response groups

strengthened their roles in providing long-term recovery

assistance. Today, hurricane preparedness is stronger

than it's ever been.

Nine months after Sept. 11, what's changing? What do

responders do when -- on many fronts -- their system

simply didn't work?

Some aspects of response have already begun to change.

Before Sept. 11, faith-based response groups had

provided long-term spiritual care in post-disaster

situations across the country. In the wake of Sept. 11,

they're making that role more visible and training

hundreds of spiritual caregivers nationwide.

Now local faith leaders are beginning to understand the

difference between responding to an individual's trauma

and a public trauma, said Bill Sage, who helped develop

Seminars on Trauma Awareness and Recovery (STAR) in a

partnership between Church World Service/Emergency Response Program (CWS/ERP) and

Eastern Mennonite University. "This whole tragedy was a

violation of public trust," explained Sage. "There are a

lot of ripple effects."

Sage and others are giving faith leaders the knowledge

they need to help people cope with those effects, he

said. STAR was developed to equip religious leaders in

New York, Washington, and other cities with new tools to

deal with the ongoing trauma caused by Sept. 11.

Meanwhile, children and youth are paying an often hidden price with regard to Sept. 11-related trauma, response leaders said.

A study for the Board of Education in New York City

found that some 200,000 of the 712,000 New York City

public school children in grades 4-12 were candidates

for some sort of mental health intervention because of

the lingering trauma of Sept. 11. That intervention, the

study recommended, should at the very least be in the

form of a visit from a mental health professional.

In turn, CWS/ERP and other groups have adopted a special

focus on youth and their parents. This summer in New

York City, Lutheran Disaster Response will offer "New

Ground Day Camps" that focus on renewing the spirit of

young people.

Caregivers report that some children are only now

exhibiting behavioral changes related to Sept. 11. Some

report seeing children carry good luck charms to school

to ward off evil. Other children are harboring revenge

fantasies. And anger, among children and families, may

be festering.

Families are also angry over environmental hazards still

lingering near Ground Zero. The United Church of Christ

(UCC) and other denominational response groups have been

advocating for people plagued by respiratory problems

since Sept. 11.

UCC leaders and others said they are sure health hazards

will continue to emerge at Ground Zero.

UCC representatives met with leaders from the New York

Committee for Occupational Safety and Health, Western

New York Council on Occupational Safety and Health, and

Sinai Hospital's Selikoff Center for Occupational and

Environmental Medicine.

With public focus on Ground Zero cleanup, faith leaders

are concerned that those affected in Washington, DC and

in rural Pennsylvania may go unnoticed.

The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) has been

focusing some of its support on the National City Church

in Washington that is helping more than 3,000 people who

lost their jobs in the food service or hospitality


As faith-based leaders continue to wrestle with post-

Sept. 11 issues, they're also continuing their work

responding to other disasters. With Colorado's massive

wildfire -- an early start to what could prove to be a

catastrophic fire season -- and predictions for a

slightly above average hurricane season, some faith-

based groups are concerned that giving has gone down

after a deluge of Sept. 11-related support.

Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) collected more than

$300,000 for its Restoring Hope Project in New York

City. Restoring Hope is a partnership between MDS, New

York City churches, and other Mennonite and Brethren

churches across North America. From grief counseling, to

aid to Afghan refugees, to peacemaking efforts between

Christian and Islamic communities, Project Hope has made

a difference in thousands of lives.

But now MDS -- in a situation that parallels some other

faith-based groups -- is concerned about those affected

by other disasters. The $300,000 collected for

Restoring Hope was placed in a designated fund. Other

giving to MDS's general fund, however, is down 25%, and the

organization has sent a plea to its donors for help.

While balancing response to Sept. 11 and other

disasters, CWS/ERP leaders and other faith-based

representatives are simultaneously wondering: 'Is Sept.

11 our new Andrew? What is a disaster these days,

anyway? And how do people prepare for the next one while

praying it doesn't happen?'

CWS/ERP plans to explore these questions and others at its fall retreat. At that time, the preliminary findings of an exploratory study, "New Roles for Disaster Response Organizations Following Terrorist Attacks," will be released.

The nonprofit Village Life Company (parent company for the Disaster News Network) is conducting the

study for CWS/ERP.

A changed response for faith-based groups depends,

partially, on changes made on the federal level. A draft

report by the National Response Team stated: "It was not

clear which federal agency was in overall charge at the

World Trade Center and Pentagon sites."

Nine months later, it's still not clear.

Related Topics:

When is public violence terrorism?

Terrorism wave proves challenging

What's changed, what hasn't at FEMA

More links on Terrorism

More links on Disaster Planning


Related Links:

Village Life Company

Faith-based 9-11 Study


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