Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Rapid response team helps families affected by Metrolink crash.

When Gloria Cooper, a volunteer with Children’s Disaster Services who lives in Pasadena, Calif., heard about the train crash, she immediately called Laura Palmer, coordinator of the program’s Rapid Response Team in southern California.

According to news reports, 25 people died and 135 were injured in the train crash on Friday, Sept. 12, in which a Metrolink commuter train collided with a Union Pacific freight train in Chatsworth, Calif.

The two women quickly realized that children would be accompanying their families to the Reunification Center that had been set up at Chatsworth High School for those with loved ones in the train. The children would need a child-friendly place to be while family members waited anxiously for news.

After trying to reach the American Red Cross without success, Cooper went to the Reunification Center in person to offer services for the children. She arrived at 7:30 a.m. Saturday morning, and Children’s Disaster Services was invited to set up a center for the children.

"The night shift nurse (at the center) was full of praise for our program," Cooper said in her report. The nurse had seen Children’s Disaster Services volunteers in action at shelters following an apartment fire in East Los Angeles, and told a gathered group of American Red Cross staff how valuable and needed the childcare was, Cooper said. The American Red Cross shift managers also knew of the program. "We had worked with these staff members on the Alaska Air responses," Cooper said.

In the meantime, Palmer put a Children’s Disaster Services volunteer team on alert and they were ready to respond. By 10:30 a.m. Saturday, three additional volunteers were at the Reunification Center ready to work with children--Mary Kay Ogden, Sharon Sparks, and Rhoda Lau.

The volunteers cared for three young children in the childcare area that they set up in the center, and played ball with two older boys who were outside the childcare area. The team also encouraged the turning down of loud television announcements about the disaster, which were in hearing range of the children.

"There were some very negative press conferences regarding the incident being broadcast," Cooper reported. "Many of the people waiting at this time after the event hadn’t quite cognated the most likely information that they would receive, that their loved one was dead. In our first ARC staff meeting this loud TV coverage was identified as not being helpful.... They subsequently turned the TV down very low and only turned it up slightly for Metro debriefings."

In the afternoon, Willard and Letha Ressler were the lead caregivers, and the team was fortunate to have Spanish-speaking volunteer Rachael Contrares present as well. Contreras was able to speak with one Hispanic family that had been waiting a particularly long time. "Rachael's ability to be present to this family was sensitive and supportive," Cooper said. Later, team members Laura Palmer and Sharon Gilbert arrived to lend a hand.

The Reunification Center closed at 6 p.m. on Saturday, and the Children’s Disaster Services team found a place to debrief. Gilbert is a clinician on the program’s Critical Response Team that responds to air disasters, and conducted the debriefing. She helped volunteers process and understand their reactions to the disaster and to the work they did with children affected by it.

"Few people realize how critical it is to have this support, and we were fortunate to have Gilbert to guide the volunteers through it," said Judy Bezon, director of Children’s Disaster Ministries.

Source: 9/17/2008 Newsline Extra

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