City of San Carlos - Disaster Preparedness- How to Reduce the Emotional Impacts of Loss


Disaster Preparedness- How to Reduce the Emotional Impacts of Loss

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Disaster Preparedness

How to Reduce the Emotional Impacts of Loss

By Dr. Deborah Bier, PhD and Antone P. Braga

Much of disaster psychology focuses on the response and recovery phases of emergencies. Given it really IS true that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, we think that addressing emotional issues along side the physical facets of preparedness is a worthwhile area in which to focus. Probably the most difficult aspect following a disaster is in having to enter the realm of the unknown. Psychologically, most people are not up to the task under circumstances that follow emergencies. It is very common to see people in a state of shock, confusion and helplessness. Those who are objective, informed and prepared, are more inclined to be more emotionally level and competent. Below are some of our recommendations.

Reduce the risk of emotional loss through these 9 simple steps:

1) ANTICIPATION. Think about the natural range of feelings people likely experience when they think about the possibility of an emergency, which range from, "I'll be overwhelmed...I won't know what to do...I'll freeze/panic...I won't be able to cope..."; to the other end of the spectrum, "I'm well prepared...I'm competent...I'll get through this...I'm in control." Anticipate that helpless feelings and reactions to disaster can be managed.

2) REDUCE ANXIETY. Discuss GOOD approaches to reducing anxiety (e.g., keep informed from credible sources, get busy preparing, talk with others for support). Emphasize reducing anxious anticipation and inability to cope through good preparedness. Talking about preparedness for potential emergencies will decrease anxiety or panic. Remember: research supports that solid information is the antidote to panic. Know that well-grounded information decreases anxiety.

3) WHEN TO WORRY. Discuss ABNORMAL responses to anticipatory emergencies (e.g., persistent disturbance in sleeping, eating, working, presence of suicidality, episodes of violence, increased drug/alcohol dependence to manage feelings, growing depression, panic attacks, or inability to carry out normal tasks of daily living). Who is most at risk for these? Not most people. Talk about different types of professional help available in the community you can turn to if you find you are having such reactions.

4) PRACTICE STRESS REDUCTION. Talk about the need to adopt and regularly practice stress-reducing measures NOW (e.g., being in nature, meditation, exercise, prayer, relaxation protocols, eating well, sleeping enough, social interaction). To first attempt self-calming techniques only after a disaster is a recipe for failure. Since stress-reducing methods take time to become a matter of habit, they must be learned and practiced in advance.

5) GET THE FAMILY INTO ACTION. Get children and other family members psychologically and otherwise prepared for emergencies. Discuss a plan of action, and have a disaster supplies kit: water, food, first aid supplies, clothing and bedding, tools and emergency supplies, and special items for medical conditions. Keep the information age-appropriate for children, and talk about what adults and children can do to be prepared. Be calm and informative, focus on active measures everyone can take together right now.

6) WHAT RECOVERY IS LIKE. Talk about what happens emotionally to MOST people following a disaster (they recover with time, or experience little or no lasting emotional damage). This information can be reassuring both before and after a disaster, creating (hopefully, self-fulfilling) expectations for a positive emotional outcome (e.g., "I know over time, things will get better...most people come through and recover; I know I will, too.").

7) A JOB WELL DONE! Take pride in the accomplishment of being prepared. Preparedness IS peace of mind and brings with it comfort in knowing you are well prepared to cope. Remember that increased readiness is a powerful tool to promote self-reliance in a household, neighborhood, or community and contributes to an internal sense of mastery and confidence.

8) PROTECT THE FAMILY'S ASSETS TO REDUCE STRESS. The prospect of losing one's home and possessions is highly anxiety-provoking. Become accustomed to the concept that a property insurance claim is a business recovery issue, considering the family's assets and losses to be the "corporation" that will need recovery. Adjusters on the other side of the table know they will be negotiating a business transaction, and so should you. Having this awareness beforehand can help protect your interest, and improve your negotiating ability.

9) MAINTAINING CONTROL. Psychologically, disasters are an experience of losing control. Control over just about everything...and to such a high extent to be intolerable for many people. Keep at-the-ready NOW, how to calculate, prepare and settle property insurance claims. Much the same as one keeps a dictionary for reference, have a book containing fundamental information you need, like rules that govern companies' behavior, claim values, your rights and responsibilities, and adjusters' jargon. Have a basic understanding how to determine what you are entitled to under your property insurance policies (home, business, auto, boat, etc.) so you know what to expect. The book is available in major bookstores:

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© 2006 Dr. Deborah Bier, PhD and Antone P. Braga