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August 7, 1987

When Disaster Strikes: How Individuals and Communities Cope With Catastrophe

Author Affiliations

University of Minnesota Minneapolis

University of Minnesota Minneapolis

JAMA. 1987;258(5):708-709. doi:10.1001/jama.1987.03400050150050

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There is a paradox about events of disastrous magnitude. While it is well known that calamities such as hurricanes, earthquakes, and raging fires can wreak immediate havoc, damaging life and property, it is less well recognized that mental trauma surfacing in some individuals after such incidents can have a long-lasting, pervasive effect. Disasters test individuals and communities far beyond their usual capabilities. Most often, rescuers rise to meet the need in valiant fashion, but the emotional aftermath in some individuals seems less heroic; these persons are left to battle it out alone and unnoticed.

Minor everyday events can trigger reenactment of a brush with death in survivors, who may remain emotionally disabled long after the danger is past. Such morbidity is not usually calculated when statisticians tabulate the destructive effect of a disastrous event. Additionally, there may be unanticipated victims following a disaster. Behind the primary victims lies a whole