BUFFALO CREEK FIRE AND FLOOD REPORT
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This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. CMS-9632458. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.
On May 18, l996, a 12,000 acre fire nearly destroyed the small mountain community of Buffalo Creek, Colorado. Following the devastation, this community was rocked by a series of flash floods culminating in a severe deluge that claimed two lives and caused extensive infrastructure damage. The majority of residents were without water for a month. Telephone service was also disrupted. This disaster serves as a very unique continual stressor with the combination of deforestation due to the fire and continual potential for summer thunder storms. The threat of more flash floods is always present. Due to this unique situation, we decided to investigate the psychological and physiological reactions of residents from this small community. Research has found that disasters have very real and important psychological and physical ramifications (Rubonis & Bickman, l99l; Hovanitz, l993). The purpose of this study was to investigate the relationship of subjective appraisals of coping self-efficacy (CSE) with several psychological and physiological factors involved in disaster recovery.
Coping self-efficacy is defined as individuals' judgment of their ability to cope with the environmental demands of the stressful situation. Under general stress conditions, higher CSE has been related to improved psychological adjustment to abortion (Meuller & Major, l989), improved coping with physical assault (Ozer & Bandura, l990), improved immune function (Wiedenfeld et al. l990), lower catecholamine responsivity (Bandura, Taylor, Williams, Mefford, & Barchas, l985), and reduced blood pressure response (Bandura, Reese, & Adams, l982). In relation to severe stressors (i.e., natural disasters and war) CSE was also associated with improved psychological and physiological outcomes (Benight, Antoni, et al., l997; Benight, Ironson, et al., l997; Murphy, l987; and Solomon et al., l988). Results from these previous studies suggest that assessment of CSE perceptions in post-disaster environments may be important and useful for intervention strategies.
The following model was utilized as a theoretical guide to help understand how CSE might relate to acute stress response variables, psychological and physiological outcomes.
The general psychological findings reported above are consistent with previous studies investigating the role of CSE judgments and distress following disasters (Benight, Antoni, et al., l997; Benight, Ironson, et al., l997; Murphy, l987; and Solomon et al., l988). These findings suggest that individuals' appraisals of perceived ability to cope with environmental demands are associated with reported psychological distress. CSE did not appear to be an important variable for explaining peoples' immune levels. Before addressing the implications of these findings it is important to note the limitations of the study.
This study is correlational and causation cannot be inferred from these findings. Thus, it is impossible to determine whether higher levels of distress lead to lower CSE judgments or the other way around. It is conceivable, however, given the experimental studies which have manipulated CSE levels and found differential outcomes (Bandura in-press) that CSE levels, at least in part, are contributing to psychological distress following a disaster. This study is also limited based on its small sample size and homogeneity of the sample. Generalization of these findings to other terrorism actions or to other samples is not warranted.
The implications of these findings are important for developing psychosocial interventions facing the aftermath of rural disasters. Interventions designed for small rural communities that are facing continual distress due to a recurrent stressor might focus on specific environmental demands where a person feels inefficacious (e.g., dealing with intrusive thoughts about the disasters, or cleaning up debris). These interventions would differ significantly from the current mental health approach to this type of problem. Having been in Buffalo Creek within days of the flood and at several community meetings, the mental health response was one based on education and providing treatment to those who seek it out. It became clear to me after interviewing approximately half of this community, and having been raised in a community only 20 minutes from Buffalo Creek, that rural residents are not accustomed to seeking out mental health treatment. Suggesting that people can travel 50 or so miles to see a counselor is probably unrealistic, especially given the intense post-disaster recovery demands. These data would suggest that many of the participants were experiencing significant emotional distress. Thus, a new model is needed for intervention if we are to connect with these individuals. Perhaps an intervention labeled more as education where individuals can come by and talk to a person at the site of the disaster to gather more information would be more helpful. During these discussions, specific cognitive behavioral strategies could be utilized to help the person. For example these "educational sessions" could be designed to help individuals set realistic goals for recovery, focus on controllable aspects of the environment, expect to have emotional reactions that are uncomfortable, etc. Individuals need to have their experiences normalized and be taught more specific coping skills (e.g., relaxation training) that would enhance efficacy perceptions. In addition, during these quick sessions more in-depth assessments could be completed to determine those who are facing deeper emotional responses. For these people, utilization of alternative treatments such as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy or more in-depth therapy could be provided, or at least offered, after a therapeutic relationship had developed.
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Table 1. Means and Standard Deviations on Demographic and Primary
Variable M SD __________________________________________________________________________ Age 53 17 Incomea* 7 1-13 Educationa* 3 1-5 LOR 26 28 Threat of Death Fire 1.7 1.3 Threat of Death Flood 1.9 1.8 Social Support 35.5 5.1 CSE 50.40 11.6 GSI .77 .62 Total IES 31.2 9.2 Acute Emotional Reaction-Fire 24.3 7.3 Acute Physical Reaction-Fire 12.4 6.0 Acute Dissociative Reaction-Fire 13.7 5.6 Acute Emotional Reaction-Flood 21.6 6.6 Acute Physical Reaction-Flood 11.4 4.8 Acute Dissociative Reaction-Flood 12.3 5.0 WBC 7026.3 2551.9 Lymphocyte % 35.5 13.1 CD56-Natural Killer Cells 17.9 8.2 CD69 61.8 27.9 _________________________________________________________________________Note. For income the ranges were1=under 5,000 to 13=over 60,000. For education the ranges were 1= some high school to 5 = graduate degree.
Table 2. Correlations Among All of the Variables in the Study
Note: Correlation > .37, p <= .01, correlation > .27 p <= .05
1=CSE 11=Social Support
2=Acute Emotional Reaction to Fire 12=Threat of Death
3=Acute Physical Reaction to Fire 13=Impact of Event
4=Acute Cognitive Reaction to Fire 14=GSI
5=Acute Emotional Reaction to Flood 15=WBBCT
6=Acute Physical Reaction to Flood 16=%Lymphocyte
7=Acute Cognitive Reaction to Flood 17=CD69
Table 3. Increment to R2 values for CSE for each of the immune
Immune Factor delta R2 P-Value __________________________________________________________________________ WBC .00 .94 Lymphocyte% .00 .80 CD56-Natural Killer .06 .20 CD69 .00 .83