Participants in a VictoriaReady training learn about disaster psychology and how to care for themselves and others after a traumatic event. VictoriaReady is a six-week preparedness program designed to help residents become “ready citizens.”

Learning to care for yourself and for others after a traumatic incident is an important step toward becoming equipped to respond during and after emergencies, according to Gulf Bend Center staff.

“Disasters are all about the people, so it is caring for and assisting people that we will talk about tonight,” said Lane Johnson, Gulf Bend Center’s chief clinical services officer, to a group of residents Thursday. “People are impacted by traumatic events, and we will learn about preparing to be a responder in these moments.”

Thursday’s event was a disaster psychology training that was part of VictoriaReady, a new preparedness program designed to help residents become ready citizens.

The six-week program is run by multiple first-responder agencies. The different courses have included trainings on disaster, hurricane and terrorism preparedness, led by the Victoria Office of Emergency Management; civilian response to active shooter events, led by the Victoria Police Department; hands-only CPR and fire safety, led by the Victoria Fire Department; and more.

When residents complete the program, they will be eligible to become Victoria Community Emergency Response Team members, said Jena West, deputy emergency management coordinator with the Victoria Office of Emergency Management. CERT members are volunteers who can be asked to help at community events or assist first responders in different situations when needed.

Thursday’s course on disaster mental health, led by staff at Gulf Bend Center, was the fifth of six courses.

During the training, participants watched a video that addressed helping people cope during and after a disaster. Afterward, Johnson shared more information, including steps that rescuers can take to relieve stress and care for themselves and others during traumatic situations.

“We must learn how to take care of ourselves – take a moment and check if you yourself are OK,” he said. “And it’s OK if you’re not OK. That’s not a weakness; that’s being human.”

Bethaney Myers, an educator with Gulf Bend Center who helped lead the course, said the course was important because it would help equip people for seeing trauma when assisting in extreme situations.

Myers discussed psychological and physiological symptoms of trauma, including becoming irritable or angry, feeling helpless, experiencing a loss of appetite and having a fear of recurrence. A “close-to-home” example of the fear of recurrence, she said, is seeing people in this community become afraid when there’s a strong thunderstorm because they think back to Hurricane Harvey.

“These things are very real, and it’s important to learn about handling them,” she said. “It’s amazing to see that this many people want to help and care for others in this community.”

Sherry Husak and Debbie Pilsner were among the participants at Thursday’s course. The two women said they had attended all of the courses so far and were thankful that the program started.

“It’s been eye-opening to learn all of this,” Husak said. “And the more we learn, the better off we are.”

“It also helps someone become better-informed about your community,” Pilsner said. “If you don’t know very much about the community around you, it can be hard to assist in these different situations, so it’s great to be here and learn.”

West said the program has been a “great success” and the agency hopes to continue it in the future.

During Thursday’s training, Johnson encouraged participants to trust their instincts when acting as community emergency response team members.

“You’re here because you care; you’re here because you have a heart for helping people,” he said. “Trust that instinct.”

Morgan Theophil covers local government for the Victoria Advocate. She can be reached at 361-580-6511, or on Twitter

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