Terrorism: The Crime That Keeps on Hurting

Article excerpt

Ann Simank is no stranger to terrorism and grief. A city council member in Oklahoma City, her district includes the site of the bombed Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. She's a mental health therapist and runs a large counseling center.

And Simank reports: Many fire, police and emergency officers, "first responders" to the 1995 bombing, were so traumatized by what they saw and heard that they're still in mental health treatment today.

"These guys are independent, trained to be tough," she notes. "But they don't take care of themselves very well." Many have been troubled by flashbacks, nightmares, guilt and depression. There have been suicides on the forces since the bombing. Substance abuse and divorces have run high.

"And we're still receiving over 100 calls a month to deal with what happened in 1995," adds Simank. "New York and Washington will be dealing with this on a far larger basis."

With a catch in her voice, Simank adds: "We feel in Oklahoma City we've been through this. We know the hurt. We felt it, we walked it, we still live it."

What's vital, she says, is early treatment of first responders and others directly impacted by the terror. "People need to know it's OK to seek help, that trauma and depression are normal reactions. They don't have to suffer a lifelong disability."

Teams of counselors are now engaged in New York and Washington. There's a mounting nationwide response to calls for backup counselors. Still, it seems inevitable that the vicious explosions of September 11 will ricochet deep into this century, afflicting thousands of trauma survivors and their families.

Simultaneously, America's proven susceptibility to global terrorism will raise tough questions about preparedness in cities and counties nationwide. Terrorism experts note that bombings or aerial attacks are just one possibility; increasingly, there's concern of biological or radiological terrorism.

Sixteen months before the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Donald Borut, executive director of the National League of Cities, sent out the warning: "Every community in America, be it large or small, is a potential target of terrorist attacks. Knowing what to do and who to turn to in the first critical moments after an attack can be the difference between life and death for victims, and knowing how to prepare for these horrible events may also help to avert them."

So what to do? Simank, who chairs NLC's Public Safety and Crime Prevention Steering Committee, focuses heavily on professional, up-to-date training for first responders and other community leaders. During the initial hours after any attack, those local people--not the military, not the FBI, not the Federal Emergency Management Agency or any other outside force--must make the critical decisions. …