Chico, Calif. – It has been almost two months since the Camp Fire and the Butte County region is now graduating from emergency response to long-term recovery. Those who study such events say as in most disasters, the community must now address the psychological and emotional aspects of moving forward.
Chico State University Professor Dr. Laird Easton says some in the community may notice there is more traffic; that it is sometimes more difficult to drive. He points to that as a ‘tension.’ He says one may also notice there are social differences between groups of people; those displaced and directly affected and those who were not. He says oftentimes, tensions arise between survivors; those who received aid and what type, and those who do not.
Those are just some of the ripple effects in the aftermath of large-scale disaster, including the Camp Fire.
Dr. Easton teaches a class on the history of catastrophes and natural disaster. He recently penned an article on the topic for the Washington Post newspaper. Ironically, he was giving a midterm in class, the day the Camp Fire broke out.
He says historically when a community experiences severe devastation, emotional patterns emerge. First, there is denial, then feelings of panic, scapegoating, acceptance and finally, grieving.
The Director of the Chico State Counseling and Wellness Center says there can also be anger derived from that tension.
Dr. Juni Banerjee-Stevens says if you find yourself feeling angry about the increase in traffic in town, it probably means you are feeling like your resources are getting smaller and smaller.
She likens disasters, to trauma, which she says can trigger a range of emotions, including fear, survivor guilt and anger.
A recent Facebook post and resulting thread points to just that. A Chico business owner expressed angst over increased traffic; questioning how long Chico would experience Camp Fire impacts. The backlash was fast and furious. Some individuals called for a business boycott, others lashed out with derogatory language, while still others resorted to name-calling.
Should individuals sharing similar concerns as the business owner; wondering about the future of the community, feel bad?
Dr. Banerjee-Stevens says, feelings are neither good nor bad, they are just data that provide information about what to do next.
The Israeli-based, international N-G-O, ISRA Aid offers disaster relief to communities around the world. A team deployed to Butte County in November in response to the Camp Fire.
The agency recognizes that once emergency shelter, food and water are provided, a region then often needs emotional and psychological support. Resources are provided to local mental health experts, educators, first responders and community leaders, to offer tools which will help those individuals assist the community in the days, weeks and even years to come.
Lauren Proctor with ISRA Aid says being in an environment where there has been such a level of devastation and loss, whether an individual experience direct impact, and being constantly exposed to those narratives, create ripple effects. She says regardless of direct impact, chances are, your circumstances have changed and everyone in the area is absorbing that psychologically.
Psychologists and aid workers say, whatever range of emotions you may be feeling right now, are perfectly normal and remind us, that recovery is not a sprint but rather a marathon.