On April 2-3, 2022, the Be Ready Alliance Coordinating for Emergencies (BRACE) hosted the two-day Northwest Florida Advanced Citizens Corps Academy (NFACCA). The conference included a Diversity in Disaster panel designed to initiate a conversation between emergency responders and public health professionals from all backgrounds. The goal of the panel was to examine the past, present, and future strategies for disaster response in connection with diversity concerns for socially vulnerable populations and marginalized communities.
Amie Leigh, Director of Public Health Initiatives at Somatic Experiencing® International (SEI), and Kianna Pearson, Public Health Project Manager, facilitated the discussion with panelists Preston Cook, MPA, FPEM; Donna Pilson, Executive Director of Rebuild Bay County Inc. and US Air Force Veteran; Deion Cossio, SEI’s Systems Manager with experience in non-profit disaster relief; and Cristina Costello, case manager for the Emergency Assistance ESG Program.
“Diversity is everything. It’s not just the color of my skin but the language I speak. It's how much money I make, it’s how I grew up, it’s where I grew up.”
– Deion Cossio
A central part of the discussion was considering what diversity and inclusion mean when it comes to crisis support and the kinds of similarities and differences that need accounting for when providing aid to communities. The panel explored the concerns and needs of the people and organizations providing aid and those receiving it. The conversation offered distinct, valuable, and mission-critical perspectives that, when taken to heart and to practice, can open new channels of thought and collaboration.
“One size doesn’t fit all. It’s a combination of all of these things: policies, practices, interactions, with all of the different cultures, and the resources that are needed by everyone. Until we can really understand what that looks like, we can’t achieve equity for everyone.” – Preston Cook
Later in the NFACCA, Amie Leigh held an additional session exploring ways for individuals to support their peers and themselves through catastrophes and life’s many crises. Amie serves as the FEMA-certified Community Emergency Response Training (CERT) trainer for Disaster Psychology in Escambria Country through BRACE. She provided the session as an advanced class on the core content for Neighbors Helping Neighbors that is implemented through the CERT program.
The session explored the complexity of the impact and aftereffects of the trauma. During the program, Amie showcased select tools and protocols drawn from the soon-to-be-launched Crisis Stabilization and Safety program (CSS), a new training program from SE International that interrupts and prevents the symptoms of stress, shock, and trauma during crisis intervention.
One focus of the CSS Program is returning choice to one's actions. After suffering trauma, helplessness can be an individual’s immediate learned response to future stressors. Understanding why our brain returns to the emotions of a previous “neurobiological injury” and actively reminding ourselves of the choices available to us can provide the opportunity to regain control.
The group did some exercises to deepen this learning experience and to increase neuroplasticity, the ability to be more flexible and capable of finding choices when they seem obscured by the crisis at hand. The talk encouraged attendees to notice and discuss their bodily responses to stress, bringing awareness to the way we respond physically to intense emotion. By exploring the “bottom-up” and “inside-out” experience of well-being under pressure, participants learned how to apply techniques to stabilize their nervous system to avoid the lasting neurological effects of trauma.
Determining the best way to make and support efforts more inclusive and culturally responsive is an important, timely, and ongoing discussion. SE International was grateful for the invitation to provide this panel, to serve the attendees, and assist in fostering the innovative solutions that can emerge from these types of conversations.
To learn more about the emerging CSS program, visit the Crisis Stabilization and Safety page on the SEI Website.