A conference being held today in Omaha will help train and educate behavioral health providers from Iowa and Nebraska how to respond to disasters like the December shootings at an Omaha shopping mall. Robin Zagurski, a clinical social worker with the University of Nebraska Medical Center, says the forum is called "Psychiatric Dimensions Post-Disaster: A Public Health Perspective."
Zagurski says: "The attendees are mostly licensed behavior health professionals who are there to hone their skills and make sure we’re responding appropriately. Disaster behavior health skills are very, very different from traditional behavioral health skills. We use a whole different set of interventions that we use in normal practice so we want to make sure we are responding appropriately and we’re providing the services that people need in this situation."
Zagurski says it’s important that behavioral health professionals know how to help first responders in these incidents. That includes police officers, fire fighters and security personnel. "In general, what we find is that people recover after this sort of situation, especially if they are given appropriate interventions and psychological first aid sorts of things, they do well," Zagurski says, "in general, we predict usually about ten to 15 percent of people go on to develop some kinds of on-going problems afterwards. What we are trying to do is be proactive and address those concerns and make sure those people are doing well and they are getting the help that they need."
A teenage gunman entered the Von Maur store at Westroads Mall on December 5th and killed eight people and wounded several others before killing himself. One of the store employees was 36-year-old Angie Schuster, who grew up in Dubuque and graduated from U.N.I. Another Von Maur worker who survived the shootings, 61-year-old Fred Wilson of Omaha, is a Monroe native and a retired Iowa teacher.
Another Iowan, a shopper, was killed: 65-year-old John McDonald of Council Bluffs. Zagurski says there were hundreds of people inside the mall when the shooting happened and many also need help. She says: "The shoppers and the employees, everybody that was affected by this disaster. This is one of those disasters that Omaha is a small enough city that there is like two degrees of separation here. It’s not that you don’t know anybody that was there. Most of us know somebody in some way that was affected by this disaster."
Zagurski says there are several phases people go through in these types of emergencies. The heroic phase is where people rush to help. Second comes the honeymoon phase where people work long hours to help the victims. Next is the disillusionment phase where people start to complain that they are not getting their fair share of donations and resources. Finally, there is the recovery phase where people start again to work together. Zagurski says Omaha right now is in the disillusionment phase and it is important that this recovery will take some time.