January 15, 2019

Tulane Mental Health Experts Help Puerto-Rican Hurricane Victims

Tulane Mental Health Experts Help Puerto-Rican Hurricane Victims

Tulane recently revealed that professor’s were traveling to Puerto Rico in order to obtain vital information related to disaster recovery as it relates to Hurricane Victims from Hurricane Maria.  Hurricane Maria is regarded as the worst natural disaster on record to affect Puerto Rico, and is also the deadliest Atlantic hurricane since Jeanne in 2004.  As of 28 August 2018, 3,057 people were estimated to have been killed by the hurricane: an estimated 2,975 in Puerto Rico. Hurricane Maria battered the island with tornado-­force winds. Massive rains brought catastrophic flooding, washing out bridges and inundating entire neighborhoods. The island’s infrastructure, already shaky, was devastated.  Power and running water were cut off for most of the population. Toilets couldn’t flush; there was no water for showers, baths, or washing clothes. People had to rely on bottled water, but supplies were limited. Phone lines and internet were obsolete. Recovery efforts were delayed because airports were shut down. Useless electric stoves had to be replaced with propane ones. Without refrigeration, food rotted and vital medicines spoiled. Most can only imagine what this sort of devastation does to a human’s mental state.  It was collective trauma for an entire population and the consequences of such trauma can linger for decades, following generations even when the memory of the actual hurricane has faded.

New Orleans is no stranger to the aftermath of Hurricane devastation.  Maybe that is why Tulane developed their Disaster Resilience Leadership Academy (DRLA) which equips students with an interdisciplinary view of the challenges and best practice approaches to leadership in the disaster resilience and humanitarian aid fields to prepare them for careers in areas such as nonprofit leadership, disaster risk and recovery, grass-root development, and more.  DRLA Director Reggie Ferreira and Charles Figley, director of the Tulane Trauma Institute, traveled to Puerto Rico at the invitation of the Foundation for Puerto Rico, a nonprofit organization that promotes economic and social development. Together, Figley and Ferreira are working with the foundation to assess Puerto Rico’s need for disaster mental health research and services, and to train NGO leaders in disaster resilience leadership, share lessons learned from Katrina and other major disasters, and help local universities develop disaster resilience and trauma courses and programs.  One of the main goals of the visit is to develop a comprehensive and collaborative resilience consortium in partnership with the Foundation for Puerto Rico. “Resilience is the ability to grow and withstand the most severe of circumstances,” Ferreira said. “The aim of the consortium will be to share resources and provide a path forward for mental health in Puerto Rico post-Maria.” On their agenda while in Puerto Rico is to also attend a memorial service for disaster victims. “The response to our visit has been amazing,” said Ferreira, who has been visiting Puerto Rico regularly since April. “The folks here have been very open and appreciative of our assistance. They are especially interested to learn more about New Orleans and disaster recovery as it relates to Hurricane Katrina.”

Hopefully, this visit helps leaders in disaster recovery transmit vital information to students, institutions, and volunteers that will help make future assistance not only more valuable but more time sensitive.  These efforts could potentially save thousands of lives impacted by natural disasters in the US and beyond.

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