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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

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What the Paris attacks can teach us about resilience

Author: Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response Nicole Lurie, MD, MSPH
Published Date: 11/20/2015 2:56:00 PM
Category: Public Health Preparedness; Response & Recovery; Observances;

Like so many people around the world, I have family, friends, and colleagues in Paris, and like others around the world, my first thought when I heard of the terrorist attack last Friday was whether the people I knew were safe. While I was relieved that they were, my heart went out to the hundreds of people who lost loved ones. As Paris and the world mourn the senseless loss of life in the attack, Parisians and visitors to the great city are moving to recover quickly and, in doing so, are showcasing for the world what it means to be resilient.

As I learned about the attack and its aftermath, I was inspired by the textbook medical response and the resilience of Parisian health care system. They had been drilling intensively for just such a situation, and it paid off. In the minutes after the attacks, Paris health officials activated a coordinated emergency response, even before the full extent of medical needs became clear. They were ready for the surge of patients. The Paris health care community maintains an emergency response protocol that requires all emergency medical personnel to be on call and ready for work. Even non-emergency health care workers who were not on duty at the time reportedly raced to the attack sites and to emergency rooms to help. The city had hospital beds ready, ambulances on the road, and medical professionals to work so that waves of patients did not overwhelm the system. The response was a powerful reminder for those of us in health care that every health care worker needs to be aware of disaster procedures and ready to implement them.

Yet what struck me most was the community response. People reached out to help each other, driven by the desire to do something, anything, to help the community. They flooded blood banks. They took in survivors. Instinctively in disasters people want to band together, to feel connected. We see, time and time again, that people fare better after disasters when they have strong social connections in their community.

Of course, people around the world used social media to reconnect with loved ones in Paris. Several years ago ASPR sponsored a contest to inspire the development of apps that could help people check on each other through Facebook and other social media. In the process, we had numerous discussions with staff at Facebook, so I was encouraged when the company announced their tool, Safety Check, and activated it for this man-made disaster. Reportedly 360 million people received notifications that their Facebook friends were safe after Friday night’s attacks.

People also are relying on social networks, whether interpersonal or social media, to work through the psychological impact. Almost immediately after the attack, people began sharing expressions of resilience and hope, from simple messages to songs and art. The importance of that social connectedness and of having a network of friends, family and neighbors to count on should not be underestimated, especially for first responders, the families of victims and others for whom recovery may take years.

The attack is a traumatic reminder that to be resilient our nation, our community, our family and each of us must be ready continually for whatever may come our way. If you don’t already have one, please make a plan today to communicate with your family, friends, and neighbors. Make emergency information and emergency contacts easy for first responders to find. Think about our responsibilities as citizens and what you may be called to do in the path of a disaster. Look for opportunities to learn how to “stop the bleed” and other aspects of first aid, CPR, and psychological first aid so you can be a bystander who doesn’t just stand by. Being ready and able to help the people around us can fill that innate desire to take action and to connect with the community. As we’re seeing in Paris, such readiness is the foundation of resilience.


Comments:

Resiliency

Sadly, acts of senseless violence like those in Paris will continue to occur despite reasonable efforts to circumvent them. Data indicate that natural disasters are occurring with increasing frequency and intensity. There is no better time than now to have a personal and family readiness plan, one that includes the component recommendations in Dr. Lurie's message. Ditto for schools, healthcare providers/systems, organizations, and businesses. Recovery from disasters, natural or man-made, is largely driven by resiliency, at both individual and community levels. We all stand to benefit from proactive readiness planning and investments towards resiliency. As was demonstrated by so many in Paris, we can each be part of the solution. Steve Krug, MD Chair, HHS National Preparedness and Response Science Board
11/23/2015 8:50:34 AM

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