Police Psychology | Mass Casualties
by Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D. ABPP
In light of the Orlando night club shooting this week, I wanted to give you some information on the effects this kind of tragedy can have on first responders and what can be done as a police leader or psychologist to help the situation. Unfortunately, I have worked on too many mass casualty situations, from TWA Flight 800, to the embassy bombings in Africa, to both World Trade Center bombings and quite a few in-between. Being in the New York area I still have cops processing their work at 9/11 and Flight 800.
First off let me explain the concept of “burst stress.” Burst stress is the norm for police officers and first responders. Sgt. Friday of Dragnet said it best when he described police work as hours and hours of boredom surrounded by moments of sheer terror. Burst stress is that sheer terror. It is the amusement park rides that jerks you into the air and tosses you upside down to be caught just before you descend to your death (or puke in my case). In the amusement park it is fun for many (I actually hate those rides) as you know that you will probably not die or else the amusement park would have closed years ago. It is also over in a few seconds, then you go on. Not quite that way when it happens in real life. A first responder is in that situation, then he or she goes home and tries to get some sleep, wakes up the next morning and returns again to the same situation sometimes for weeks. It’s not just feeling the jeopardy, but also seeing the death that makes them confront their mortality. When you handle mutilated bodies you picture yourself, your children and many others in that position and it is not pleasant. It haunts you. (more…)