Lessons Learned From Ground Zero

Fall 2021

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A Personal Account

James Halpern

EVERYONE HAS A 9/11 STORY, where they were, who they knew, what they thought. On September 11, 2021, I led the first American Red Cross mental health team to Ground Zero looking for “walking wounded.” On September 12, I began a week-long assignment managing the Missing Persons Hotline. Over the next few weeks, I escorted family members of first responders to Ground Zero as they looked over the site to see where their loved ones perished. For the next year, I supported memorials, funerals, counseled survivors, first responders, reporters, government officials, and clergy who worked at the site. Most of us who responded were shocked, confused, disoriented, vicariously traumatized, and because there was so little research and guidance, I went on to found the Institute of Disaster Mental Health at SUNY New Paltz; write, train, and present on Disaster Mental Health locally, nationally and internationally; and coauthor three textbooks on disaster mental health. I continue to serve as a Red Cross volunteer and member of the Board of Directors of the Hudson Valley Chapter, planning for and responding to COVID and other disasters.

I am sharing this personal account of my response to the 9/11 attacks, hoping that readers will better understand how to prepare themselves and their clients for disasters that are sure to come.

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