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9/11 and Hurricane Katrina in Psychological Aspect


The 9/11 terrorist attacks and Hurricane Katrina changed America and its responses to emergencies. Hurricane Katrina and the 9/11 attacks were two of the worst natural disasters and terror attacks, respectively, in US history.

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Beyond the physical devastations, Hurricane Katrina and the 9/11 attacks led to eminent health and mental health challenges among victims. Adverse effects generally affected all the victims, but low-income individuals, African Americans, mothers, and children were at particularly elevated risks for misery. Even among the most vulnerable groups, however, there is often considerable variation in survivors’ resources, exposure, and responses. The purpose of this essay is to analyze the response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks and Hurricane Katrina, mainly from psychological perspectives.

Summary of the Disasters

Hurricane Katrina

Hurricane Katrina, which occurred on August 29, 2005, was an unexpected natural act that resulted in an unprecedented human tragedy. It was the most damaging natural disaster ever experienced in the US, covering over 90,000 square miles of land (estimated to be the size of the UK). Along the Mississippi coastlines, the hurricane wiped out coastal communities and left many deprived, while in New Orleans, the flood caused massive havoc. All said, over 1500 people died due to Hurricane Katrina. Along the Gulf Coast, over 1 million persons suffered displacement without basic essentials for over a week, while financial damage was estimated to range between $100 and $200 billion (Gard & Ruzek, 2006).

9/11 Attacks

On September 11, 2001, terrorists struck the United States. The al-Qaida affiliated terrorists hijacked four airplanes in mid-flight and directed two of the planes into two skyscrapers at the World Trade Center (WTC) located in New York City. The aftermath caused these structures to catch fire and collapse. At the same time, another plane that targeted the Pentagon, the US military headquarters located in Arlington, Virginia, caused limited damages while the final plane crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Experts believe that either the White House or the US Capitol was the prime target for the terrorists. It was, however, reported that passengers on the plane foiled the attack on these targets due to their resistance and prevented the terrorists from hitting the potential target. In all, about 3,000 people lost their lives after the 9/11 attacks.

Notably, survivors of mass disasters and other adverse events are vulnerable to prolonged psychological issues related to exposure to the risk of deaths, insults, damages, and displacement (Gard & Ruzek, 2006). In both events (9/11 attacks and Hurricane Katrina), survivors suffered psychological distress, including anxiety and DSM-IV mood disorders (Rhodes et al., 2010). Further, cases of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms were also observed following the experiences. Finally, survivors also suffered stress, fear, grief, and depression, as well as substance abuse, among others. In both cases, the two traumatic events were perceived as stressful experiences and generally contributed to mental and physical health problems.

Resources Available to Treat and Assist Victims of the Disasters

Physical and Mental Health Services

Through coordinated efforts, the American Red Cross, APA’s Disaster Response Network (DRN), and other organizations, for instance, provided both physical and mental health services to hurricane survivors and the 9/11 attacks’ survivors (Stambor, 2005). Qualified mental health professionals were readily found at the American Red Cross shelters and service centers to assist survivors in managing stress, injuries, loss, and trauma.

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The American Red Cross health care experts also provided emergency first aid and served survivors with other health-related needs, including assistance with getting prescription medications, acquiring medication replacement, and facilitating adherence. Other organizations, such as NYC 9/11 Benefit Program for Mental Health and Substance Use Services, Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and New York City Al-Anon, readily offered their services to manage mental and substance abuse cases.

Additionally, these organizations also offered long-term emotional support to survivors. The American Red Cross, for example, offered three behavioral health programs to assist vulnerable persons and communities following the disasters. Specifically, one benefit program and other major grant programs aimed to help persons in getting medical care and reestablishing previous community ties, and creating a resilient community.

Food and Shelter

Following the adverse effects of the hurricane on the Gulf Coast, several organizations hurriedly provided many centers as evacuation shelters. Additionally, these shelters were supplied with kitchens, meals, and emergency response services.

Financial Resources

Survivors of the disasters also got financial aid. For example, New York Disaster Interfaith Services offered financial resources to individuals affected by 9/11 with limited or no access to recovery assistance. Additionally, the New York State Crime Victims Board provided up to $30,000 in financial aid for persons who lost family members on 9/11 and others who qualified for the aid.

It is imperative to recognize that during such disasters, various organizations from local, state, and federal governments and other non-governmental organizations step forward to offer assistance and mitigate adverse outcomes associated with such adverse events.

Red Cross or FEMA Involvement

The American Red Cross and FEMA are always partners in disaster recovery programs. When millions of Americans were affected by the two disasters, many more organizations stepped forward to offer recovery aid. In fact, following the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the American Red Cross was entrusted with about $2.2 billion out of the $3 billion from the non-profit sector in financial contributions to aid the victims. The Red Cross spent a huge percentage (87%) of this fund in the first phase of the response, which involved the provision of shelters and offering assistance to millions of victims (American Red Cross, 2010).

For millions affected by severe storms and terror attacks, response and recovery efforts are normally facilitated by various agencies, but notably was FEMA, which represents the federal government in collaboration with the state governments and local authorities. FEMA and Red Cross understand that other survivors often require additional support to recover. However, in both events, the needs exceeded local, state, and federal resources.

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Hence, voluntary agencies had to supplement their efforts. Usually, the Red Cross and other non-profit, faith, and community-based organizations arrive earlier before FEMA does and tend to stay long after FEMA has concluded its mission. In fact, from the above-mentioned resources available to the victims, majorities are now offered by non-profit and other non-governmental organizations. As such, non-profit and non-governmental organizations play a major role in the FEMA’s mission to offer aid and guidance to individuals and states recovering from disasters.

Once an adverse event requires the attention of the state and the President has declared it, FEMA coordinating officers located at the disaster areas collaborate with voluntary organizations to facilitate the involvement of the entire community in the recovery efforts. The American Red Cross is the most important voluntary organization in the US because it is chartered by Congress to offer relief to victims of disasters and to help individuals to avert, prepare for, and respond appropriately to emergencies. Given this relationship and its long history of providing aid, the Red Cross has claimed a unique leading role in any major disasters in US history.

Every disaster provides an opportunity for partnership between FEMA and the Red Cross, as well as a learning opportunity. Through the Disaster Case Management Program, FEMA has developed an approach to help it to identify unmet needs of the victims and collaborate with other non-profit and other non-governmental organizations, which may be willing to offer additional assistance. The collaboration ensures that the victims with unmet needs can gain access to a matched network of social service resources and depend on the capabilities of such organizations to ensure continuity of care during the recovery phase.

FEMA encourages all affected individuals to apply for assistance. Nonetheless, the Disaster Case Management strives for inclusion by catering to any individuals affected by the declared disaster. This strategy aims to ensure maximum reach to all survivors of a disaster.

For FEMA, the program may run for a period of 90 days, for example. Survivors are usually screened and referred to as the most appropriate governmental or non-governmental aid programs. During case management, FEMA cannot offer additional financial aid to the victims. As a result, individuals with unmet needs are normally referred to as the American Red Cross at any moment. Notably, the American Red Cross is not a government agency.

Rather, it depends on donations from the American public to run its operations and disaster relief activities. Nonetheless, a FEMA-Red Cross partnership provides enhanced flexibility and service delivery to survivors in manners that extend disaster support beyond what is usually available immediately. The partnership ensures that disaster survivors across the US are offered optimum support in the recovery phase.

FEMA’s agenda is to support victims and first responders to ensure that all involved stakeholders collaborate to build, sustain, and improve the capability to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate all risks, but it can only realize this agenda when there is sufficient coordination and collaboration among all players.

The 9/11 attacks and Hurricane Katrina were major events that exceed the capacity of any single organization or the state. While the American Red Cross has always worked together with other established disaster-response organizations, Hurricane Katrina and the 9/11 attacks needed new thinking. To best meet the needs of the survivors, the Red Cross and other organizations had to collaborate.

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Today, the work of the American Red Cross reflects an effort to enhance partnership, which has developed out of necessity occasioned by emergencies and the need to serve victims following a disaster. As the tasks and scopes of the recovery phase become obvious, FEMA, the Red Cross, and other organizations have realized that the key to successful outcomes is through coordination of efforts. Apart from sharing the available tools and technical knowhow, these organizations also share generous contributions from the American people. These organizations are entrusted with such resources and ensured that they reached the intended victims.

The Red Cross, for instance, channeled a substantial percentage (45% in the case of Hurricane Katrina) of funding through other partner organizations (American Red Cross, 2010). Further, it offered grants for emotional support to various groups among the victims and strived to ensure that all affected individuals were served. Additionally, the organization also ensured that funds were available to victims from other agencies. Hence, through such collaborative efforts, these support organizations have ensured that survivors get the right resources at the right time.

An Analysis of the Long-term Effects These Disasters had on Victims and rescue workers’ Mental Health and Overall Well-being

Many studies have established that high profile disasters, such as the 9/11 attacks, Hurricane Katrina, the Madrid train bombing and others, usually have long-term negative impacts on mental and physical health and general well-being of the affected individuals (Galea, 2007). According to Rhodes et al. (2010), rates of mental and physical illness rose sharply among individuals affected at least one year after Hurricane Katrina. More cases of PTSD were reported after the disasters. Specifically, the most vulnerable population, such as young, low-income, African American mothers, were the most affected. Mental illnesses were common and when combined with other stressors, such as family issues, the risk factors elevated the status to higher cases of PTSD.

The disasters also resulted in increased cases of fair or poor health noted in the presence of at least a single diagnosed medical condition (Rhodes et al., 2010). Instances of overweight also increased, which was attributed to poor physical health. The study further established “strong adverse effects of hurricane-associated stressors and loss on mental health outcomes” (Rhodes et al., 2010, p. 237).

That is, victims who endured more stressors and destruction of property were at increased rate of experiencing symptoms of PTSD, mental illness, and relatively higher levels of perceived stress. The effects of loss and stressors on physical health were less obvious, but the presence of more stressors indicated elevated possibilities of diagnosed medical conditions.

Galea (2007) found out that physical symptoms persisted on a long-term basis relative to psychological symptoms in victims of disasters. Acknowledging that physical symptoms may last for many years following exposure to a disaster is important for both the victims and clinicians, particularly for primary care providers. However, it is also necessary to identify symptoms that may be directly associated with the disaster experience. Hence, based on the comorbidity noted between psychological and physical symptoms, and the role of psychological pathology to the development of physical health conditions, clinicians are required to be extra careful to comprehend the specific causes of symptoms and to offer care that is more effective.

However, this challenge could be less of a concern in cases of special individuals, such as rescue workers, for whom care providers may have extremely useful knowledge about the role that a traumatic event may play in their overall mental and physical health issues (Galea, 2007). Nonetheless, these findings on physical and mental symptoms across populations following disasters demonstrate that traumatic event experiences should be key to care providers when they attend to victims and rescue workers who may have experienced adverse events.

Some previous findings demonstrated delayed developments in symptoms, few years following the disaster event (Galea, 2007). Still, literature suggests that numerous cases following trauma usually show psychological symptoms immediately after the exposure, which means that a persistent course of symptom resolution after trauma over time may be observed (Galea, 2007).

The prolonged poor mental and physical health symptoms for over a year following a disaster show that long-term intervention is necessary for the victims (Rhodes et al., 2010). Unfortunately, though, many victims in need of care in the period following a disaster may actually fail to receive it. According to Rhodes et al. (2010), this is not uncommon since even under normal situations, most victims with socioeconomic challenges in the US who experience physical health issues and severe mental conditions may fail to get sufficient care. It is however acknowledged that victims of disasters are known to have an elevated risk of physical health and mental health challenges and, thus, there is sufficient reason to direct healthcare services to survivors of disasters.

An Assessment of How These Disasters Affected Children vs. Adults

Children are regarded to be particularly vulnerable during any disasters and in fact, the Declaration of Geneva 1923 states that the children must be the first to get relief in periods of disasters (Freeman, Nairn, & Gollop, 2015). Regrettably, children, even in normal situations, may remain unheard, but distress circumstances may push them to oblivion, never to be heard. While unique vulnerability of children is well documented and acknowledged, agency to their unmet needs should also be given priority.

Terrorism, disasters, and other traumatic experiences result in disruption and devastation for many people and families globally. However, the needs of children are specifically compelling based on their developmental fragility and exceptional vulnerability (Pfefferbaum, Noffsinger, Wind, & Allen, 2014). For children, the outcomes of these terror and disasters depend on exposure and integral aspects, including personality, development, and general functioning, as well as on family members’ reactions, treatment, and the recovery environment (Pfefferbaum et al., 2014).

Following disasters and terror attacks, children’s adjustments vary across different levels of factors, such as cognitive, biological, behavioral, and emotional. Specifically, posttraumatic stress and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms are now noted as the most commonly evaluated cognitive health issues for children and adults disaster victims. Additionally, reactions of children to disaster account for some degrees of depression, anxiety disorders, grief, sadness, and academic difficulties, behavior challenges, and substance use (Pfefferbaum et al., 2014).

Further, some studies have also shown that children may also experience additional symptoms related to post-disaster events (Pfefferbaum et al., 2014). These symptoms are specifically associated with child and adolescent functioning, and there are separation anxiety, hostility, delinquency, dependence, and hyperactivity (Pfefferbaum et al., 2014).

Studies have presented different findings with respect to the consequences of disasters on mental well-being of children (Pfefferbaum et al., 2014). For instance, some results indicated that most disaster findings have established “high levels of PTSD” in children and teenagers, while others have observed that the most children who experience disasters may fail to develop diagnosable psychopathology (Pfefferbaum et al., 2014). Nonetheless, children are most likely to be severely affected relative to adults, even if they are not directly exposed to the disaster (Pfefferbaum et al., 2014). Although the severity of symptoms seems to decline over time in the vast majority of children, stress and other issues related to disaster experiences may persist for many months or even years in other children.

It is also further shown that reactions of children to disasters are affected by their own integral factors, such as demographics (i.e., race and ethnicity, development, gender, and age), disposition, and preparedness before a disaster and mental status. Further, all other inherent factors, as previously shown, play critical roles in influencing outcomes of children’s mental and physical health. For both adults and children, coping mechanisms are critical when identifying post-disaster adjustments.

An Assessment of the Role the Media Played in Either Agitating the Psychological Symptoms Victims Experienced From These Disasters or Helping to Reduce the Symptoms

Studies show that disaster television viewing was significantly associated with PTSD and PTS outcomes (Newman et al., 2014). That is, disaster television watching is linked to PTSD and/or PTS beyond what is noted in other disaster exposures. For instance, a study of New York City residents after 9/11 attacks established that the relationship between reported frequency of watched televised programs and apparent PTSD stayed even after controlling for past traumatic experiences, deaths of close persons in 9/11 attacks, and direct engagement in the rescue processes (Newman et al., 2014).

After controlling for other exposure elements and other factors, still a significant relationship was established between Hurricane Katrina television viewing and PTSD symptoms in psychiatric outpatients who directly experienced the disaster (Newman et al., 2014). These findings were consistent for other disaster studies’ outcomes, such as the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami (Newman et al., 2014). While these studies have shown positive associations between watching televised disaster programs and various forms of mental health outcomes, the available evidence may be insufficient to implicate the role of the media in causing persistence conditions.

Apart from PTS and PTSD, these studies also examined depression, stress reactions, fear, anger, substance abuse, and anxiety (Newman et al., 2014). Notably, PTS and PTSD conditions were most generally linked to disasters. It is also necessary to explore clinical relevance of these mental health outcomes.

According to Newman et al. (2014), consumption of other media outlets, such as radio and newspaper, in some studies that examined these media formats showed no association. Still, the use of the Internet with related disaster contents also showed significant association with mental health outcomes. In all these instances, television media coverage reflected important associations with psychological outcomes relative to other media formats.

For instance, some results indicated that reading newspaper following the 9/11 attacks was not linked to fear or depression. At the same time, others have shown no relationships between the consumption of Internet or newspaper materials (Newman et al., 2014). Overall, most studies have confirmed that media consumption elevates psychological outcomes in individuals have who survived disasters, such as 9/11 attacks, Hurricane Katrina, Tsunami, and the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake. Nonetheless, no definitive conclusions can be derived because of insufficient empirical evidence to support observed psychological outcomes.


The purpose of this essay was to analyze the response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks and Hurricane Katrina mainly from a psychological perspectives. It is noted that both events were adverse with severe psychological outcomes on survivors, particularly to vulnerable populations.

These events overwhelmed capacities of the affected states and, therefore, more aid from external sources was necessary. To mitigate adverse outcomes in both survivor and rescue workers, the American Red Cross, FEMA, and other volunteer agencies mobilized resources to facilitate recovery. Clinicians played critical roles to help survivors to improve both their physical and mental health. It is also important to recognize that children are more affected than adults are, and media contents referring to disaster events tend to agitate psychological symptoms in survivors.


American Red Cross. (2010). The American Red Cross response to Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma. Web.

Freeman, C., Nairn, K., & Gollop, M. (2015). Disaster impact and recovery: What children and young people can tell us. Kōtuitui: New Zealand Journal of Social Sciences, 10(2), 103-115. Web.

Galea, S. (2007). The long-term health consequences of disasters and mass traumas. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 176(9), 1293–1294. Web.

Gard, B. A., & Ruzek, J. I. (2006). Community mental health response to crisis. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 62(8), 1029–1041. Web.

Newman, E., Pfefferbaum, B., Nelson, S. D., Nitiéma, P., Pfefferbaum, R. L., & Rahman, A. (2014). Disaster media coverage and psychological outcomes: Descriptive findings in the extant research. Current Psychiatry Reports, 16(9), 464. Web.

Pfefferbaum, B., Noffsinger, M. A., Wind, L. H., & Allen, J. R. (2014). Children’s coping in the context of disasters and terrorism. Journal of Loss and Trauma, 9(1), 78–97. Web.

Rhodes, J., Chan, C., Paxson, C., Rouse, C. E., Waters, M., & Fussell, E. (2010). The impact of Hurricane Katrina on the mental and physical health of low-income parents in New Orleans. Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 80(2), 237–247. Web.

Stambor, Z. (2005). Psychological support in Katrina’s wake. American Psychological Association, 36(11), 24.

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