The 10th Anniversary of September 11: A Time to Elevate Our Game
By Philip J. Lazarus
Life's harsh winds uproot the weak; its hard rains beat down upon our kin. Let those who stand support the falling, keep faith with those who lie in the dust. — New Union Prayer Book
This month marks the 10th anniversary of September 11, 2011—a day that will live on in infamy; a day in which nearly 3,000 heroes and victims were killed in the worst act of terrorism that ever occurred on American soil. At that time, I was serving as the chairperson of the NASP National Emergency Assistance Team (NEAT) and understood the awesome responsibility that our association had. We needed to be psychological first responders and take action to help meet the emotional needs of children and families in the aftermath of this national tragedy.
When I learned about the first plane striking the World Trade Center Towers, I immediately turned on the television and watched with horror as the events unfolded and then contacted members of NEAT and the NASP office. All our lives were changed in countless ways on that tragic day.
We at NASP needed to disseminate information quickly. Along with the Director of Communications, Kathy Cowan, we discussed priorities for the development of documents for our website and determined who would be available to respond to media requests. Our goal was to be the premier source of information to help children, families, and schools cope with the emotional aftermath of 9/11. Expectations for NASP increased geometrically, and by the morning of September 12, we already had articles online. Each day, more documents were made available and, by the end of a fortnight, we had more than 5 million hits to our website and our resources were being quoted by newspapers all across the nation.
Years ago, in first commenting about September 11, we wrote, “In working with survivors and their loved ones, we have found that family, faith, and friends are fundamental in providing comfort and support. Forging meaningful connections with others, establishing a closer family bond, reaching out to those in need, making a contribution, and drawing strength from one's faith all help in the healing process (Brock, Lazarus, & Jimerson, 2002, xxii). These words still ring as true today.
Last summer, I led a NASP response to Louisiana in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Rig Disaster and had the opportunity to have dinner with a friend of mine, Rick Richter, an attorney in New Orleans. We talked about all the hardships he and his family and friends had faced following Hurricane Katrina and how he assumed the responsibility for many families who lost their homes in the hurricane. I was touched by how many obstacles he overcame and how much he accomplished, and asked him how he did it. He responded simply, “I just had to elevate my game.”
So I ask, how do we consecrate, how do we commemorate, how do we pay tribute to all those fire fighters, policeman, first responders, and ordinary heroes and victims who lost their lives on 9/11? Perhaps one simple answer is: We have to elevate our game. And how do we do this? We can increase our knowledge and skills on crisis intervention and learn how to be more effective responders. Here are some suggestions:
- Read the accompanying article regarding crisis intervention in this month's Communiqué.
- Become PREPaRE trained.
- Familiarize yourself with all the crisis resources on the NASP website.
- Read a chapter from Best Practices in School Crisis Prevention and Intervention.
- Mentor a colleague or get mentored on the science and art of crisis response.
- Get trained in disaster response from the American Red Cross or from the National Organization for Victim Assistance.
- Read crisis research summaries in Communiqué.
- Help familiarize yourself with or update your district's crisis response manual.
- Ensure that crisis prevention and response activities are part of your job description.
- Attend workshops on crisis intervention at your state conference or the NASP convention.
- Join your district's crisis response committee.
- Write an article for your school's newsletter on helping children deal with loss and trauma.
One way we can pay tribute to those who lost their lives is by elevating our game. We hope that we will never again have to deal with an act of terrorism of this magnitude. Nonetheless, we as school psychologists often have to provide comfort and support and use all our knowledge and skills to help children who have lost a parent, a teacher, a friend, a brother, or a sister and help them cope with the inevitable grief that a loss of this significance presents. With upgraded skills, we will be better able to serve all children impacted by crisis or trauma in their lives.
We who stand can support the falling and keep faith with those who lie in the dust.
Brock, S. E., Lazarus, P. J., & Jimerson, S. R. (2002). Best practices in school crisis prevention and intervention. Bethesda, MD: National Association of School Psychologists.
Philip J. Lazarus, PhD, is president of the National Association of School Psychologists.