Sunday, October 17, 2021

What can we learn from 9/11 survivors?

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Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Diana Farrant survived the terrorist attacks on her office

9/11 survivors can be taught what keeps them healthy.

They carry Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other conditions.

Research shows that they would have benefited from access to a health service more similar to that now available in the UK.

Particularly in stressful situations where leaving their house felt like an ordeal, they should have been helped to be self-reliant.

That’s the conclusion of researchers from Rutgers University in the US, and Liverpool John Moores University.

The way the researchers put it, common public health interventions “did not match the experience of the 9/11 trauma survivors”.

They were particularly disappointed with how the Veterans Administration mental health system treated the survivors.

Veterans were treated in one of the agency’s buildings, which is “an unusual configuration” for hospitals treating veterans.

The study followed 9/11 survivors who called the veterans hotline.

Vets focused on the psychological distress of survivors – with no time allocated to address the physical or social impacts of the terror attacks.

And while veterans didn’t have to go through the trauma of 9/11 themselves, they could not help those who were affected.

In Manchester:

Katie Harris was in her office on the 103rd floor of the north tower of the World Trade Center when the terrorists struck on 11 September 2001.

She ended up working through a year of burnout because of how she coped with the pain of her still-swollen chest.

Her friend “would die and be alive”, when she’d need to let Katie deal with her own emotions.

Saved lives in Manchester

Like many people from south Manchester, Diana Farrant was just entering her late 20s, when the attacks occurred.

She spent the following weeks helping friends and neighbours remove their belongings from their homes.

What saved her and her partner’s lives during that time was the generosity of strangers.

“I was directly involved in about 90% of the rescue operations,” says Ms Farrant.

In what she describes as one of the worst cases of burnout she’d ever witnessed, she feared that she might be emotionally broken if she wasn’t helped.

“I was convinced that my life had been wasted and was going to end in a few weeks.”

How to plan your survival kit

It was only when her friend offered her a place to stay and bought her a sleeping bag that she got through her near disaster.

“That was my break.”

She got involved with Action for Children in Manchester and has worked in administration ever since.

It is for this reason that she is not critical of the way the US government treated its 9/11 survivors.

“I don’t think that much needs to be changed,” she says.

While not happy with the response of US government agencies, Ms Farrant maintains that the lessons she has learned can have a positive effect on the way governments handle public health emergencies.

“In all sorts of crises there are lessons to be learned. Maybe [there] should be a co-ordinated approach.”

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Lessons learned from 8/7

The UN and British government knew what they were getting when they offered money to make people leave India and Pakistan in the months following the 2004 terror attacks in Mumbai.

Fortunately, Pakistan embraced the offer to house survivors and returned home without alienating its own people.

Unions wanted Australian citizens to live in evacuation shelters because this seemed to reduce crime.

The government tried this in several areas but it did not have a long-term effect.

In Australia in the wake of the September 11 attacks, the Tasmanian Fire Service was told to offer people training for fire fighting.

In a department of public housing in Melbourne it offered victims of a terrorist attack the equivalent of a gym membership.

Survivors’ leaders in New York asked volunteers to know what they should do if an evacuation occurred.

All this went on throughout the disaster, with minimal resources dedicated to finding the right mix of support services.

We have no doubt that lessons will have been learned from New York and other countries who welcomed 9/11 survivors.

In the UK, the Fire Brigades Union recently commissioned a study into how it runs its own response to emergency incidents.

A report is expected to be published later this year.

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