Conference offers information and training in preparing for catastrophe

NEW PALTZ — The Institute for Disaster Mental Health at the State University of New York at New Paltz will hold its annual conference on April 27, with the theme, “Our Community Prepares,” to highlight a number of approaches to improve the planning, quality and availability of services for mass trauma survivors and their families in the seven-county Hudson Valley region.

The conference begins on April 26 with an evening showing of Spike Lee’s critically acclaimed film, “When the Levees Broke,” which documents an ineffective and catastrophic response to disaster. On April 27, the morning and lunch panelists and afternoon workshops will confront the question, “What lessons can we learn from that failed response to ensure that our community is prepared for future disasters?”

Conference highlights include a key-note address by Dr. Darlene Washington, a disaster preparedness expert from the American Red Cross in Washington, D.C. and a panel discussion on preparing for disaster in the Hudson Valley.

The lunchtime panel features New Paltz faculty offering their perspectives on the Spike Lee film. The afternoon workshops include discussions on pandemic flu; promoting resiliency in children; leadership in emergency management; and counseling first responders. There will be time for networking and tabling after the workshops.

James Halpern, director of the Institute for Disaster Mental Health and professor of psychology, said that this year’s conference is designed to be useful to the general public as well as those involved in emergency and disaster response.

“In spite of the fact that the last Hurricane season was milder than predicted, disasters are common,” said Halpern. “The American Red Cross responds to 80,000 a year. Most of us alternate between being too reactive to threat and finding comfort in denial and avoidance. There will be epidemics, fires and other natural and human caused disasters. Rather than being overemotional or in denial, we should calmly prepare as individuals, families and communities.”

Dr. Washington is director of preparedness and team lead for Influenza Pandemic Planning, American Red Cross, National Headquarters in Washington, D.C. She is responsible for strategic planning and management of the unit’s responsibilities for developing, testing and implementing disaster preparedness education for the general public. This includes natural, human-caused and public health disasters and spans the life of a disaster from pre-event, to just-in-time, event, post-event and recovery education.

Sponsors for the conference include: The Institute for Disaster Mental Health; College of Liberal Arts & Sciences; The Department of Psychology; Campus Auxiliary Services, Minnewaska Lodge; and the Ulster County Legislature.

For more information and to register, visit