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No Takers for Resiliency Training

BILOXI, Miss. -- With an offering of more than $275,000 in donations to train the Coast s first responders in trauma-coping skills, the Resiliency Center in Biloxi has almost no takers so far.

There is already a widely accepted system in place for most first responders called the critical incident stress debriefing. But proponents of the Resiliency Center s resiliency training say their system provides a little bit extra, and more training in that area could never hurt.

It is already being deployed in schools throughout the Coast and is available to the general public.

Resiliency training is designed to put the individual back into a state of wellness so that they may function optimally after a traumatic or disruptive event, said John Olson, interim director of the Resiliency Center, adding it also teaches people to notice when others are not doing well. What we re really doing is putting people in a place to be ready for the next one.

It has long been proven there is an indisputable link between good mental and physical health. Keeping first responders well balanced in both areas is critical during disasters, Olson said.

The available $275,000 is to train up to 45 first responders to become trainers, Olson said. Thus far, only two first responders, both police officers from Gulfport, have taken part.

Olson said he largely blames himself for the poor turnout after trying to drum up interest for a few months, adding they need to sell the program a little differently.

If we say, resiliency, it s not strong enough, Olson said. If we say, mental health, that s scary.

Gulfport Fire Chief Pat Sullivan said the days when merely uttering mental-health issues was considered a sign of weakness among first responders are, for the most part, gone. Now, Sullivan said the problem is sometimes his firefighters get a little overwhelmed by mental-health counseling and trainings.

You ve got to understand that immediately after and during the storm, we were inundated with different groups coming in wanting to talk to us, from 9/11 (workers) to the state and so on, Sullivan said. There were foot massage therapists, group therapies. There s been a lot of that type of work done. There s probably not been enough follow-up.

That is why Sullivan said he would always consider something like resiliency training for his firefighters.

Rick Fayard with American Medical Response, the ambulance provider for most of Harrison and Hancock counties, agreed, saying CISD workers came down in large numbers after Katrina. For the most part, all his paramedics did well with that training.

I think CISD is really a great program, Fayard said. But if there is another resource out there, certainly we d be interested in at least looking at it.

Resiliency training originated as a public mental health program in Israel following a large outbreak of violence and has been successfully deployed -- especially with first responders -- in disaster areas the world over, claim its founders.

It is now being done in South Mississippi alone because the program s originators felt this was the best place for it, not New Orleans, said Olson.

These people came in and gave us a heck of a valuable tool, Olson said. Fundamentally, I d recommend everybody take part in the workshops.

Joshua Norman is a Kaiser Family Foundation Media Fellow for the Sun Herald. He can be reached at 896-2343 or at jdnorman@sunherald.com

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