Something came out of Colorado last week besides images of the destruction from a rapidly developing wildfire that roared through the area between Denver and Boulder. The fires consumed upwards of 1,000 homes in the suburban subdivisions of the Rockies’ eastern foothills in just a few hours. Besides the stunning devastation, the wild weather brought important insight, too. Even people who live a thousand miles away should reflect on what occurred — because the significance of the day’s events needs to be a wake-up call for all Americans. The people who lived through the nightmare give us important context.
The Center for Public Integrity and Columbia Journalism Investigations collaborated on this project with newsrooms around the country: IowaWatch, California Health Report, Centro de Periodismo Investigativo, City Limits, InvestigateWest, The Island Packet, The Lens, The Mendocino Voice, Side Effects and The State. We created our survey for disaster survivors and mental-health professionals with guidance and vetting from Sarah Lowe, clinical psychologist and assistant professor at Yale School of Public Health; Elana Newman, professor of psychology at the University of Tulsa and research director for the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma at Columbia University; Gilbert Reyes, clinical psychologist and chair of the American Psychological Association’s trauma psychology division disaster relief committee; and Jonathan Sury, project director for communications and field operations for the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University. HIDDEN EPIDEMICS: Weather disasters drive a mental health crisis RELATED: Iowa’s Parkersburg tornado survivors offer support, hope after derecho turmoil RELATED: How to heal emotional wounds after disaster
No government agency in the United States regularly tracks the psychological outcomes of disasters. And while academic studies may shed light on specific events, the questionnaire was meant to understand experiences from multiple disasters across the country, furthering on-the-ground reporting. It is not a formal, randomized survey.