As television viewers watched the second terrorist attack on the World
Trade Center complex and the subsequent collapse of its two towers on
September 11, 2001, members of the New York Police Department risked their
lives to pull survivors from the rubble and witnessed scenes of carnage too
horrible to describe.
Between 1,500 and 2,000 officers arrived at ground zero before the second
plane struck. Twenty-three officers were killed as a result of the
By mid-2002, an estimated 20,000 to 25,000 police officers had worked at
ground zero, the city morgues, or the retrieval operation at the Staten Island
During this time, the Police Organization Providing Peer Assistance (POPPA)
was in full swing, according to director Bill Genet.
Nearly 200 peer support volunteers working with POPPA had been trained in
critical-incident response before the attacks occurred.
The program sent outreach teams to ground zero to talk with rescue workers
about posttraumatic stress disorder and the services available at POPPA's
crisis centers at the Federal Reserve Bank and at the Staten Island retrieval
operation. They reached an estimated 8,000 rescue workers and distributed
100,000 information brochures to emergency personnel and police commands
across the city.
In addition, POPPA volunteers urged their fellow officers to join small
groups of officers in "debriefing" or "diffusing"
sessions to discuss their feelings associated with their activities at ground
By September 11, 2002, POPPA volunteers, together with a number of mental
health outreach teams from around the country, had counseled more than 5,000
Genet believes that for the largest proportion of officers who developed
posttraumatic stress disorder after 9/11, the terrorist attacks were only
partly to blame for their symptoms. For these individuals, "the attacks
merely triggered the accumulated trauma from years past associated with
shootings and other incidents," he said. ▪