Oakmont post-fire lessons
By Marty Thompson and Jim Brewer
Oakmont residents offered stories of their evacuations and suggestions for improving emergency notification at a workshop sponsored by the Oakmont Village Association board on Nov. 14.
Some people told how Citizens Organized to Prepare for Emergencies (COPE) notifications worked for them the morning of Oct. 9; others said they awakened and got out on their own.
“In an emergency your neighbors are your closest family,” said Sue Hattendorf who organized and runs COPE.
Audience suggestions included pushing the city to install emergency warning sirens, equipping COPE volunteers with bullhorns, and recruiting more COPE volunteers.
“It’s on us to prepare for emergencies,” declared board member Linda Oneto, who led the workshop which drew 200 people to Berger Center.
Dealing with post-fire stress
Residents got encouragement from Dr. Dana Nussbaum, a licensed psychologist in Novato who specializes in the health and well-being of emergency responders and their families.
“If you feel like you’re down in the dumps? Guess what? You’re normal,” she said. “Post trauma response” emotions can range from depression and anger to loneliness or guilt, she said. These emotions normally would dissipate in about 30 days, but “this event was so much bigger than a single fire. There were multiple factors that added to peoples’ stress level.”
Nussbaum, who lives in Sonoma County, said it’s often easier to recognize stress in others than ourselves. “So if you hear more than one person express concern about how you are doing, it might be a good time to check in with yourself.”
Stress responses from the fires might be triggered again by the anniversary date, by wind, or even the smell of smoke coming from a neighbor’s fireplace, she said. The key “is to notice these situations and realize they are normal,” Nussbaum said.
If, towards mid- or late-December you or someone you care about is still suffering and it hasn’t dissipated, or if you’re experiencing distressing intrusive thoughts or unable to sleep, it may be time to seek a professional who is trained to help alleviate these post-fire stress responses. Again, such stress responses are normal, just particularly strong. The sooner you deal with them the sooner you will feel better.