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Immediate help in Puerto Rico: National Hispanic and Latino ATTC training first responders

October 14, 2017

Maureen Fitzgerald
ATTC Network Coordinating Office
NIATx/Great Lakes ATTC

Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands  on September 20, and the majority of the island lacks power or running water. Residents who remain on the island are struggling to overcome the enormous physical and emotional distress of the storm, the strongest to hit the island in 90 years. Recovery efforts are underway, but officials estimate that it will take months to bring things back to normal.

There's a lot of work to do, and the National Hispanic and Latino ATTC, based at the Universidad del Caribe, is offering immediate assistance. Through a request from SAMHSA and operating at a no-cost extension through 2017, the National Hispanic and Latino ATTC, led by Dr. Ibis Carrion, will be sending clinical psychologists to all regions of the island to train first responders and SAMHSA grantees in Puerto Rico on Psychological First Aid for First Responders.

Psychological first aid (PFA) is an evidence-informed approach to providing support to survivors following a serious crisis. It provides strategies that first responders can use to promote safety, calm, connectedness, self-efficacy, and help. PFA also teaches techniques for helping survivors manage the intense emotions that can emerge after experiencing a trauma or natural disaster.

The National Hispanic and Latino ATTC staff are mobilizing this effort while still experiencing hardship themselves. Their offices at the Universidad del Caribe have electricity and some Internet access, but at home most still do not have electricity, and some do not have running water. 

The mental health impact of Hurricane Maria on the island’s residents is likely to endure long after property and systems are restored. The National Hispanic and Latino ATTC’s activities are of vital importance in responding to this traumatic event. We’ll keep you posted on the team’s progress and on ways we can help as the story develops.

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The opinions expressed herein are the views of the authors and do not reflect the official position of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), SAMHSA, CSAT or the ATTC Network. No official support or endorsement of DHHS, SAMHSA, or CSAT for the opinions of authors presented in this e-publication is intended or should be inferred.