Community News
When Disaster Struck on 9/11, POPPA Was Prepared
Psychiatric News
Volume 41 Number 17 page 21-21

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 attacks.

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 landfill.

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 zero.

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 officers.

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. ▪

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