BUFFALO, N.Y. -- A University at Buffalo researcher will spend
the next two years studying post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
and the long-term effects of Hurricane Katrina on police officers
who worked during the disaster.
The present proposal, funded by a $156,750 grant from the
National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), will
examine the long-term post-Katrina mental-health and social impact
on police officers who policed the disaster in St. Bernard Parish,
located southeast of New Orleans and one of the areas most
devastated by the hurricane.
John Violanti, PhD, research associate professor in UB's School
of Public Health and Health Professions and former member of the
New York State Police, is lead researcher.
"Previous research suggests that disasters have a harmful impact
on a person's mental health," says Violanti, "and no more is this
evident than in those who respond first to disaster, conduct rescue
and recovery missions, and try to maintain civil order, as well as
deal with their own personal losses.
"Such was the case with the police in the New Orleans area
during Katrina," he continues. "In addition, the police, as well as
all residents, were impacted by the lack of essential services
following the storm. Because of this void in services, mental
health among those most exposed at multiple levels of the storm --
the first responders -- got no relief. This may have led to a
prolonged strain and extension of symptoms over time."
Through a decade of studies of police officers, Violanti and
colleagues have shown that the pressures of law enforcement put
officers at risk for high blood pressure, insomnia, increased
levels of destructive stress hormones, heart problems, PTSD and
The present study proposes to assess the possible persistence
and/or presence of mental-health symptoms in the police officers
since Katrina. The St. Bernard Parish Sheriff's Department was
chosen because that location likely suffered the worst brunt of the
The study aims to describe the demographic and psychosocial
characteristics among police officers to determine if psychological
symptoms are connected with a variety of life events associated
with the hurricane.
Researchers also will gather data to develop future
interventions tailored to the specific needs of the officers and,
in addition to publishing the results of their research on this
traumatic event, will pass them along to agencies and emergency
responders who could use the findings in the future.
"This research may increase our understanding of the prolonged
psychological effects of disasters upon first responders," says
Violanti. "These results may benefit police officers directly by
providing clearer evidence of the relationship between the
psychological factors they experience, which could result in
organizational changes to reduce stress."
Michael Rutter, PhD, and Holly Fetter, PhD, from the Department
of Counselor Education at Canisius College in Buffalo, are
collaborating on the study.
The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public
university, a flagship institution in the State University of New
York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's
more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through
more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree
programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of
the Association of American Universities.