Tips & Resources

When Disaster Strikes: Connecting, Offering Support, and Learning How to Cope

By P. Lloyd, Clinical Services Director, Novus Health

This past weekend, one of the worst typhoons ever recorded hit the island nation of the Philippines. Early figures suggested that at least ten thousand people would be killed but, as of the morning of November 11th, 2013, casualties have been confirmed at 942. However, numbers continue to rise. There are few things worse than being far from home and hearing devastating news about your hometown or country. Feelings of helplessness can be overwhelming and the grief and worry, almost paralyzing.

Whether travelling or living away from family and friends, the first impulse we might have is to get on that plane, train, or bus and head to the affected area. But this brave plan of action might not always be the ideal thing to do. Reaching out by phone or email is a good place to start—but don’t be surprised if it is extremely difficult to connect. Local communications media are often overwhelmed when disaster strikes, and it may be a few days until you can speak with someone who can give you information.

The Government of Canada’s travel website makes sure to keep its travel advisories up to date. It also directs people to the humanitarian early warning service for worldwide information and tracking.

The Philippine Red Cross has advised anyone looking for a family or friends to contact the Social Services Restoring Family Links and Tracing Services, by calling (country code 63) 09175328500. Because this line may be inundated with calls at this time, try to be patient and keep calm. Keep in mind that often early reports of casualties can be exaggerated before the actual details are made known.

Even Google has launched a person finder service that includes a mobile application. You may want to consider using this tool, but be cautious when giving any personal information over the internet. In times of natural disasters, identity theft increases.

One of the best things to do in times of disaster is take care of yourself and your loved ones. Make sure to eat well, talk with friends and family, and avoid bottling your feelings up. Help younger family members cope by talking with them about what has happened. With small children, having them draw a picture of their fears can help immensely.

As the saying goes, “hard times do not make character, they reveal character.” People all over the world have the capacity to amaze and astound us with the care and compassion they show at times like these. Support those around you by listening to them when they need to talk, keeping silent when they need someone to be there, and showing compassion when talking about tragedies like this one.