By: Keel Hunt
What about the second responders?
In this season of hurricanes and earthquakes, forest fires and other monstrous dangers to life and property, we hear much – and we should – about the “first responders” who jump into action when disaster happens.
These are the firefighters, police, EMTs, National Guard and others who know what to do when calamities occur. They bring their training and their courage to bear when the winds whip and the floods come, when entire cities come under assault by the worst storms we can imagine.
First responders rush into danger, not away from it, and they save us when they can. They limit the loss of life. Overnight these trained professionals become our heroes – and rightly so.
But more and more I find myself thinking about what happens with survivors after that first wave of disaster passes. There is always a second wave of some type, mind you, and this is true not only for victims of the worst weather but of personal crimes and other trauma.
Consider the families of the dead, or the victim of assault, of robbery, of any number of personal crimes that can be so individually devastating. For these, the after-effects can last for years, not days, and what happens then?
What happens after the officer leaves with his report, when neighbors go back home, when extended family members depart believing the worst is over? In many cases it is not.
Across Nashville after our 2010 flood, as in Houston now and Key West and San Juan, in Portland and Mexico City, the initial disaster was followed by after-shocks of different shapes. Not only the literal seismic ones that follow an earthquake but deep emotional wounds and realizing the enormity of personal disruption.
The rest of us must remember this next phase of loss and grief. It does not occur on TV screens for the world to see, nor under the glare of camera lights in front of news reporters with their microphones and recorders. It is private, unseen and largely silent suffering. Well after the cable news lights have dimmed, healing the emotional wounds remains a work in progress.
We should give good thought to what happens next, and how the rest of us might lend a hand then also. It is, by no stretch, the exclusive job of government nor of hospitals, but of neighbors, churches and friends.
The good news is that in our city there are heroes who do this good work, too, who are much quieter in how they go about it. These “second responders” are the professionals and their volunteers at hundreds of nonprofit agencies that serve parts or all of the wider city.
Nonprofits today are as much part of the city’s infrastructure as police, fire and public works departments. They do what government cannot and what we cannot do for ourselves – helping that victim of domestic abuse, or the child of a broken home, or families that need food and counseling – all who are in some inevitable but otherwise lonely phase of grief and recovery.
Yet these second responders cannot do it alone, either. There are ways to help them.
Take your pick. Call the charity of your choice, maybe the nonprofit agency that you know that may have helped you or yours or your neighbor at some point in time.
Or contact the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee, or go online at www.GivingMatters.com and see the great number of agencies that do this good work.
There is much to do when disaster strikes, and after it passes too.
Keel Hunt is a Tennessean columnist.
Reach him at Keel@TSGNashville.com