Psychologists who are volunteers with APA's Disaster Response Network helped people left homeless and displaced by the wildfires that tore through southern California in October.
Fanned by strong Santa Ana winds, a constellation of fires broke out on Oct. 21 and blazed across stretches of seven counties from Malibu to San Diego. At their height, the fires forced more than 500,000 people to leave their homes, the largest number evacuated in California history. By Nov. 9, most of the fires had been contained. Nine people had died, more than a half-million acres had burned, and more than 3,200 homes, businesses and other buildings had been destroyed.
In many places where people took shelter or sought assistance, whether it was from the American Red Cross or local government, psychologists offered help, says Devora Lockton, PhD, a Carlsbad psychologist and chair of the San Diego Psychological Association's Disaster Response Network committee. Psychologists helped evacuation centers run smoothly by working out problems among relief workers, spotted people who might need additional counseling, and helped people who had lost their homes cope with the stress of dealing with insurance companies and government agencies, Lockton says.
Besides helping the Red Cross, as many as 50 psychologists volunteered in shifts at Qualcomm stadium in San Diego, says John Mansdorfer, PhD, president of the association. The Red Cross also brought in psychologist volunteers from around the United States to help with relief operations.
The professional community's commitment won't end with the work at the shelters and service centers, Lockton says. "The psychological services the county is going to need are going to be years for part of the population, not days or months," she says.
California psychologists are exploring ways to offer longer-term assistance to those who may need it, says Rick Allen, PhD, co-chair of the state's DRN program.
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