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Immediate emotional responses to the Southern California firestorms


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Immediate emotional responses to the Southern California firestorms
Series Title:
Quick response research report ;
Physical Description:
13, 8 p. : ill. ; 28 cm.
Holman, E. Alison
Silver, Roxane Cohen
University of Colorado, Boulder -- Natural Hazards Research and Applications Information Center
Natural Hazards Research and Applications Information Center
Place of Publication:
Boulder, Colo
Publication Date:


Subjects / Keywords:
Wildfires -- Psychological aspects -- California   ( lcsh )
Disasters -- Psychological aspects   ( lcsh )
government publication (state, provincial, terriorial, dependent)   ( marcgt )
bibliography   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )


Includes bibliographical references (p. 11-13).
Additional Physical Form:
Also issued online as part of a joint project with the Louis de la Parte Florida Mental Health Institute (FMHI) Research Library's disaster mental health initiative.
Statement of Responsibility:
by E. Alison Holman and Roxane Cohen Silver.
General Note:
Cover title.
General Note:
"This was also presented as a poster at the 102nd Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association, Los Angeles, CA, August, 1994."

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aleph - 001985075
oclc - 32359567
usfldc doi - F57-00040
usfldc handle - f57.40
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HAZARDHOUSECOpyImmediate Emotional ResponsestotheSouthern California Fu-estorms* ByE. Alison Holman and Roxane Cohen SilverQUICK RESPONSE RESEARCH REPORT #721994HAZARHOUECOpy*This was also presented as a poster at the 102nd Annual Conventionofthe American Psychological Association, Los Angeles, CA, August, 1994. The views expressed in this report are thoseofthe authors and not necessarily thoseofthe Natural Hazards Centerorthe UniversityofColorado.


Immediate Emotional Responses to the Southern California FIreStorms* ByE. Alison Holman and RoxaneCohen SilverQUICK RESPONSE RESEARCH REPORT #721994..f the Natural Hazards This publicatIOnIS 0Ifmation Center's ongomg Arcations n or Research&ppIh Report Series .. I< R sponse ResearcQUiCed du/hazards http://WWW.colorao.e*This was also presentedasa poster at the 102nd Annual Conventionofthe American Psychological Association, Los Angeles, CA, August, 1994. The views expressed in this report are thoseofthe authors and not necessarily thoseofthe Natural Hazards Center or the UniversityofColorado.


AbstractItisoften assumed that immediate emotional responses to a disaster will invariably and unifonnly be negative.Itisalso commonly assumed that the severityoftrauma has a "dose-response" relationship with the severityofdistress experienced post-disaster (see Freedy, Kilpatrick,&Resnick 1993a; Herman, 1992; Smith&North, 1993).Thepresent study tested the validityofthese assumptions in a sampleofresidents from communities affectedbythe Southern California firestonns. Eighty-five residentsofLaguna Beach and the Malibu-Topangaareawere interviewed within 36 hoursofthe Fall, 1993 fires, and again 2-4 weeks later. At Time1,residents who had lost their homes reported significantly more shock and somatic symptoms, and marginally less positive affect than those who had not lost their homes. However, residents who lost their homes did not differ significantly from those who had not lost themintennsof the frequency and intensityofnegative affect, nor in the intensityofpositive affect they reported.By2-4 weeks post-fires (Time 2), people who lost their homes reported significantly less shock and marginally less negative affect than they reportedatTime1,but affect levels did not differ significantly over time for those who had not lost their homes.ByTime2,residents who lost their homes did not differ from those who had not lost their homesintennsofthe frequencyorintensityofpositive and negative affect reported. At Time2,people who lost their homes reported more shock and somatic symptoms than those who had not lost their homes,butthese differences only approached significance. These findings challenge several assumptions underlying prior disaster research, and offer the first systematic reportofimmediate emotional responsestoa disaster.


3Background and RationaleOnOctober 27, 1993, a firestorm ravaged thousandsofacres in Laguna Beach, California, seriously damagingordestroying391homes.Oneweek later, on November2,1993, a similar fire raged through thousandsofacres and 380 homes in the Malibu-Topanga CanyonareaofLos Angeles County. After a two-day evacuation, residents in both areas were allowed back into their neighborhoods to see what was leftoftheir homes. What kindsoffeelings do individuals experienceinthe immediate aftermathofsuch a community disaster?Doindividuals who lose their personal belongings and residence have different emotional responses over time than residents from affected communities who do not lose their homes?Thepresent study addressed these questionsbysystematically investigating immediate emotional responses to the Southern California firestorms. Immediate Emotional Responses: Anxiety reactions are the primary symptoms that have been reportedinresponsetoa varietyofdisasters such as earthquakes (Cardena&Spiegel, 1993), floods (Cook&Bickman, 1990), cyclones (Parker, 1977), the collapseofa hotel skywalk (Wilkinson, 1983), and a factory explosion (Weisaeth, 1989). Respondents have also reported retrospectively that they felt surprisedorshocked, saddened, helpless, numb, and angry in the immediate aftermathofa disaster (see, e.g., Amato, 1986; Freedy, Kilpatrick,&Resnick, 1993b). Upon reviewing the disaster literature,wefound that many researchers commonly assume that individual responses to disaster are homogenous. Moreover, some researchers suggest that immediate responses will invariably be negative: "Everyoneisexpected to be upset in the early post-disaster period, and lackofvariability will produce uniformityof


4 data from whichfewpredictions canbemade" (North&Smith, 1994, p. 9). Unfortunately, the focusofmuchofthe disaster literature reflects this view--researchers rarely consider the role of positive affectorpositive outcomes following disasters(d.Joseph, Williams, & Yule, 1993). Such selective attention to identifying negative outcomes may inadvertently and unnecessarily pathologize disaster survivors.Othershave suggested that any emotional distress experienced in the immediate aftermathofa disaster will be modest and short-lived (Fritz&Marks, 1954; Quarantelli,1985;Taylor, 1977).Byassuming uniformityinthe perceived magnitude and durationofimmediate responses to disaster, however, these researchers have essentially ignored the individual differences in these responses that may help us understand long-term adaptation. Finally, thereissome evidence that the severityofexposure to, and degreeofpersonal loss from a disaster directly predict long-term psychological distress (see Green, 1993). In fact, itisgenerally assumed among trauma researchersthatthe severity of trauma has a "dose-response" linear relationship with the severityofpsychological distress experienced (see, e.g., Freedyetal., 1993a; Herman, 1992; Smith&North, 1993). The evidence supporting this assumption, however, has been challengedbyotherstudies that have found no relation between trauma exposure and psychological outcome (Limaetal., 1987; see Holman&Silver, 1994, for a discussion). Unfortunately, studies addressing immediate responses are often conducted retrospectively, months after the disaster occurred (see Freedyetal., 1993b; Ollendick & Hoffmann, 1982; Smith, North,&Spitznagel, 1993; Weisaeth, 1989). Without constraining data collection to the period immediately following a disaster, one cannot assume the data


5 reflect emotional responses to the disaster itself rather than the various stressors commonly experiencedinthe aftennath of such a tragic event. We know of no study to date that has systematically assessed "immediate" individual responses within a dayortwoofa disaster. The Present StudyThepurpose of the proposed research was twofold: (1) to study the variationinimmediate emotional responses to the Southern California firestonns, and (2) to examine the relationship between the severity of loss and respondents'emotional responses to the fire. Method When the Fall, 1993, firestonns occurred In Southern California, a structured interview protocol was designed to be administered to Laguna Beach and Malibu-Topanga area residents within 36 hoursoftheir return home after a mandatory 36-hour evacuation. We used media reportsofdamage to identify the most heavily affected neighborhoods. Interviewers with badges identifying them from the University of California, Irvine, were sent to these neighborhoods to interview adult residents as they returned to their homes after evacuation. Interviewers were instructed to approach individuals, establish that they were residentsofthe affected areas, and request their participation in a brief structured interview about how they were feeling regarding the firestonn. Eligible candidates for recruitment into our study included people who appeared to be assessing damage to their homes, as well as people walking on the streetsofthe targeted neighborhoods.Theinitial interview lasted approximately 30 minutes. Upon completionofthe interview, participants


6were given a list of names, addresses, and phone numbersofcommunity mental health agencies and local mental health professionals willing to provide assistancetolocal residents. The final Time 1 sample included a total of85people, representing 58%ofthe individuals approached.inorder to identify ongoing patterns of emotional responses to the firestorm, respondents were recontacted approximately 2-4 weeks after the initial assessment and asked to participateina second interview. Seventy-four of the original85people (87%) agreed.Thesecond interview took approximately 45-60 minutes to complete, and respondents were compensated $20 for their continued participation in the study.MeasuresPositive and Negative Affect. The frequency with which respondents experienced four positive (happy, vigorous, satisfied, affectionate) and four negative (irritable, miserable, nervous, guilty) emotions in the past24hours was assessed using a 5-point scale ranging from never (1) to always (5). These items represent a subset of the Affects Balance Scale developedbyDerogatis (1975).Theinternal consistency of the Positive and Negative Affect subscalesatTime 1 and Time 2 ranged from.63to .96. The intensityofeach emotion experienced was also rated on a 4-point scale ranging from mildly (1) to extremely (4), allowing the computation of two summary scores representing the intensity of Positive and Negative Affect, with internal consistenciesatTime 1 and Time 2 ranging from .52 to.75.Shock. Emotional functioning was assessed with a four-item scale addressing emotional responsesinthe previous24hours: how often respondents felt numb, in


7shockorstunned; cried; felt like cryingbuttriednottobreakdown;andtried to force themselves tobestrong even though they were very upset. Items were scoredona 5 point Likert scale with endpointsofnotatall (1)andallofthe time (5).Theinternal consistencyofthis four-item scale was .74atTime1,and .77atTime 2. Somatic Symptoms. Eight items from the somatization subscaleoftheSCL-90-R (Derogatis,1983)were used to assess the degree to which respondents were distressed by somatic symptomsinthe previous24hours. Items were rated on a 5-point scale ranging from notatall (0) to extremely(4).This scalehadaninternal consistencyof.84atTime1and.81atTime2.Results Time1: Residents who lost their homes reported significantlymoreshockandmarginally less positive affect than residents who did not lose their homes. Residents who lost their homes reported significantly more somatic symptoms than those who did not lose their homes. Residents who lost their homes did not differ from those who didnotlose their homes in the frequencyorintensityofnegative affect,norin the intensityofpositive affect. Positive affect was reported more frequentlyandmoreintensely than anyotheremotion for the sample as a whole.


Time ItoTime2: Over time, residents who lost their homes reported significantly less shock and marginally less negative affect. Levelsofaffect from Time 1 to Time 2 did not differ for those residents who did not lose their homes.Time2:By2weeks post-fires, residents who lost their homes did not differ from those who did not lose their homes in termsofthe frequencyorintensityofpositive affect, and the frequencyorintensityofnegative affect reported. Residents who lost their homes reported more shockandsomatic symptoms than those who did not lose their homes,butthese differences only approached significance. Positive affect continued tobethe most frequently and intensely reported emotion for the sample as whole. DiscussionThefindingsofthis study suggest thatinthe immediate aftermathofa major disaster, individuals in the affectedareaexperience a wide rangeofpositiveandnegative emotions.Thehigh frequencyofpositive emotions reported byourrespondents suggeststhateven in the face of a potentially life-threatening fire, individuals may experience feelingsofhappiness, affection, and satisfaction. In fact, within 36 hoursofthe fires, residents reported that their positive emotions were more8


9 frequent and intense than the negative emotions they experienced, suggesting that the assumptionofpredominant universal distress in the immediate aftermathofa disasterisa misconception(cf.Wortman&Silver, 1987). Clearly, the roleofpositive affect in coping with extreme stressisan important consideration for futureresearch.Ourfindings also suggest that while the severityoflossisassociated with the degreeofshock and somatic sYmptoms experienced in the immediate aftermathofa disaster, this relationship quickly disappears. In fact,by2-4 weeks after the fires, the patternofemotional responses did not differ significantly between individuals who lost their homes and those who did not. Conclusions As the first systematic studyofimmediate emotional reactions to a natural disaster, the findings from this study provide important information about how people respond to disaster. In particular,ourfindings demonstrate that immediate responsestodisasters are not uniformly negative as previously expected.Itisour hope that this study encourages future research that reflects abroaderconceptual scope assessing both positive as well as negative affect in responsetodisaster. The overall successofthis research suggests that itispossibletoobtain immediate reactions from individuals facing extreme formsofstress.Ourresearch team intends to conduct follow-up interviews with these residents throughatleast oneyearpost-fires,inanattemptto link early emotional responsestolong-term adjustment. Hopefully, the results reported hereinwillbe valuable for assisting researchers and clinicians trying to understand the underlying processes influencing long-term adaptation to extremeortraumatic stress.


10AcknowledgementsTheresearch reported herein was fundedbyNational Science Foundation grant SBR-9403386 to Roxane Cohen Silver and E. Alison Holman.


11References Amato,P.R(1986). Emotional arousal and helping behavior in a real-life emergency. JournalofApplied Social Psychology, !Q, 633-641. Cardena, E.,&Spiegel, D. (1993). Dissociative reactions to the San Francisco BayAreaearthquakeof1989. American JournalofPsychiatry, 150, 474-478. Cook, J. D., & Bickman,L.(1990). Social support and psychological symptomatology following a natural disaster. JournalofTraumatic Stress, 541-556. Derogatis,L.R. (1975).TheAffects Balance Scale. Baltimore, MD: Clinical Psychometric Research. Derogatis,L.R(1983).TheSCL-90-R: Administration, scoring. and procedures manual-II (2nd Ed.). Towson, MD: Clinical Psychometric Research. Freedy, J.R,Kilpatrick, D. G.,&Resnick, H.S.(1993a). Natural disasters and mental health: Theory, assessment, and intervention. In R. D. Allen (Ed.), Handbookofpost-disaster interventions [Special Issue]. JournalofSocial Behavior and Personality, (pp. 49-103). Freedy, J.R,Kilpatrick, D. G., & Resnick, H.S.(1993b).Thepsychological impactofthe Oakland Hills fire. Charleston, SC: Medical UniversityofSouth Carolina Crime Victims Research andTreatmentCenter. Fritz,C.E., & Marks, E.S.(1954).TheNaRCstudiesofhuman behavior in disaster. JournalofSocial Issues, 10(3), 26-41. Green,B.L.(1993). Mental health and disaster: Research review. Washington, DC: National InstituteofMental Health. Herman, J.L.(1992).Traumaand recovery. USA: Basic Books.


12 Holman, E. A.,&Silver, R. C. (1994). Coping with misfortune: Resilience amongadultsurvivorsofincest. Manuscript submitted for publication. Joseph, S., WiIIiams, R.,&Yule, W. (1993). Changes in outlook following a disaster:Thepreliminary developmentofa measuretoassess positiveandnegative responses.JournalofTraumaticStress, Q, 271-279. Lima,B.R., Pai, S., Toledo, V., Caris, L.,Haro,J.M., Lozano, J., & Santacruz, H. (1993).Emotionaldistress in disaster victims: A follow-up study.JournalofNervousandMental Disease, 181, 388-392. North, C. S.,&Smith, E. M. (1994). Quick response disaster study: Samplingmethodsandpractical issues in the field. Manuscript submitted for publication. Ollendick, D. G.,&Hoffmann,M.(1982). Assessmentofpsychological reactions in disaster victims.JournalofCommunity Psychology. 10, 157-167. Parker, G. (1977). Cyclone Tracy and Darwin evacuees:Ontherestorationofthe ..; species. BritishJournalofPsychiatry, 130, 548-555. QuaranteIli,E.L. (1985).Anassessmentofconflicting views onmentalhealth:Theconsequencesoftraumatic events. In C. R. Figley (Ed.),Traumaandits wake (pp. 173-215). New York: BrunnerlMazel. Smith, E. M.,&North, C.S.(1993). Posttraumatic stress disorder in natural disastersandtechnological accidents. InJ.P.Wilson&B.Raphael(Eds.), Internationalhandbookoftraumatic stress syndromes (pp. 405-419). New York:PlenumPress.


13Smith,E.M., North, C. S.,&Spitznagel, E.L.(1993). Post-traumatic stress in survivorsofthreedisasters. In R. D. Allen (Ed.),Handbookofpost-disaster interventions [Special Issue]. JournalofSocial BehaviorandPersonality, (pp. 353-368). Taylor,V.(1977).Goodnewsaboutdisaster. Psychology Today, 11 93-94, 124, 126. Weisaeth, L. (1989).Thestressorsandpost-traumatic stress syndromeafteranindustrial disaster. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 80 (suppl. 290), 25-37. Wilkinson, C.B.(1983). Aftermathofa disaster:ThecollapseoftheHyattRegency Hotel skywalks. American JournalofPsychiatry, 140, 1134-1139. Wortman, C. B.,&Silver, R. C. (1987). Coping with irrevocable loss. In G. R.VandenBos&B.K.Bryant (Eds.), Cataclysms, crises,andcatastrophes: Psychology in action(MasterLecture Series, Vol. 6) (pp. 189-235). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.


LagunaBeachandMalibu-Topanga Area Residents N=85 Age: Female: Male:OwnedHome: Rented Home:LostHome: DidNotLoseHome:(Butsuffered smoke, soot, partial burn damage)Range 21-83yrsMean47yrs44 (52%)41(48%) (67%)28 (33%) 24 (28%)61(72%)


FrequencyofImmediate Emotional ResponsestoSouthern California Firestorms (Time1)(N=83)LostHome D Did Not Lose Home3.02 2.09Shock .9.<.001 2.582.27NegativeAffectn.s.3.03Positive Affect'p<.08 F{3,79)=6.22 9<.001


IntensityofImmediate EmotionalResponsestoSouthern CaliforniaFirestorms(TIme 1)(N=79)LostHome D DidnotLose Home2.55Negative n.s.2.202.09Positive Affect n.s.F{3,75}=3.49 -11<.02


DegreeofSomatic Symptoms36HoursAfterSouthern California Firestorms (Time1)(N=79).80SomaticSymptoms.p<.001 .39 Normative Community SampleIILostHomeDDid Not Lose HomeF(3,75)-3.49 1)<.02


1 2.23 2 -1-2.07::------2.03 Negative Affect 3 3.10 3.19 Positive Affect 2.12 Negative Affect11.89 Shock z 4 _5.Jii&N....... CZ$!_Z2ImmediateReponsesand2Weeks Post-Fires(N=73)52 143+3.12 -2.87Positive Affect 2.71:>< 2.605 =o.....oeCt-4oCJ=QJ=crQJ.. TIT2TIT2LostHomeDidNot LoseHome1 F(l,71)=5.57 f< .03 2 F(l,71)=9.85f<.01Overall F (3,69)=3.80 f< .01


FrequencyofEmotional ResponsestoSouthern California Firestorms 2-4 Weeks Post-Fire (Time2)(N=74)3.18LostHome DDidNot Lose Home..1.891.50 Shock ])<.05 2.12 2.05 Negative Affectn.s.Positive Affect F{3,70)=2.47n.s. -1)<.10


IntensityofEmotional ResponsestoSouthern California Firestorms 2-4 Weeks Post-Fires (Time2)(N=74)2.33 Lost HomeoDid not Lose Home1.64Negative Affect n.s. Positive Affect n.s.


DegreeofSomatic Symptoms 2-4 Weeks After Southern California Firestorms (Time2).(N=74).56Somatic Symptoms -1)<.10 .33 Normative Community SampleIILost HomeDDid Not Lose HomeF(3,70)-2.77 p<.05


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l!!!.!L1. Correlationsaaongwave 1andwave 2cognitive,eaotional,andsocialresponses 1 2 3 45 6 7 8 9101112 131415Cognitive1.TeaporalDisintegration1.00Emotlol'llli2.PositiveEaotion-.351.003.NegativeEaotion.64-.381.004.Nuab/Shock.58 .22.491.005.Soaatization.64-.24.57.501.00Social6.Ventilation. .181.00Wave2" Cognitive 7.TeaporalDisintegration.56 . . .07.631.009.IapactofEventsIntrusion.53-. .14.65.601.00Emotiol'llli10.PositiveEaotion-.26.52 .31 .28-.32.09-.48 .39-.351.0011.NegativeEaotion.44-.33.57 .36 . . .67.56.59-.55.661.0013.BSI-GlobalSeverityIndex.54 .21 . .70.56.61-.43.73.741.00Social14.Ventilation. .08.46.16 . . .33 .28-.09 . . . . . .18.16-.25.01 -.20-.26 .02-.08 .06.12 .19-.03-.19.17-.3719.Gender".25 .19 . .28 .33.07.12Mean2.45 2.932.362.37.493.34 1.96 1.872.313.09,Wave2A-74b.Male=O,-Feaale=1-Coefficientsof.23+aresignificantatthe E<.05 levelCoefficientsof.29+aresignificantatthe E<.01 levelCoefficientsof.35+aresignificantatthe E<.001 level


Table2.HierarchicalRegressionEquationsPredictingWave2Distressfro.Age,Gender,FireExposure,SeverityofLoss,----Wave1Distress,andWave1Te.poralDisintegrationPredictorTotalR2F(TotalR2 )Change R2F(Change R2 )Betasr2Block 1NegahveAffect-.03.01E.otionalFunctioning.19.04SCL-90So.atization.3311.36*u.3311.36u *.19 .08Block 2 .11.02Gender.398.45***.063.06*.23 .05Block3 .15.02LossSeverity.416.48***.021.34.11 .01Block4 Ie.pora!Disintegration.456.48***.044.20*.28.04* .I!<.05,two-tailed;** .I!<.Ol,two-tailed;u*.I!<.001,two-tailed


Table3.HierarchicalRegressionEquationsPredictingWave2SocialConflictfro. Aile, Gender,FireExposure,SeverityofLoss,---Wave1Distress,BaselineSocialConflict,andWave1Te.poral Disintegrahon PredictorTotalR2F(TotalR2 )Change W F(Change R2 )Beta sr2 Block 1NegahveAffect.20.08E.otionalFunctioning-.06.00SCL-90 Soutization -.22.00BaselineSocialConflict.255.70***.255.70".23.07Block 2 :x;ge-.27.08Gender.345.58***.094.25*.14.01 Block 3 'FTreI:Xposure .17 .02LossSeverity.364.48***. 4le.pora!Disintegration.404.60"*.043.91*.29.04 *1!<.05,-two-taIIea;..<.01, two-t811edj ... <.001,two-t811ed

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Immediate emotional responses to the Southern California firestorms /
by E. Alison Holman and Roxane Cohen Silver.
[Boulder, Colo. :
b Natural Hazards Research and Applications Information Center],
13, [8] p. :
ill. ;
28 cm.
Quick response research report ;
v #72
Cover title.
"This was also presented as a poster at the 102nd Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association, Los Angeles, CA, August, 1994."
Includes bibliographical references (p. 11-13).
Also issued online as part of a joint project with the Louis de la Parte Florida Mental Health Institute (FMHI) Research Library's disaster mental health initiative.
z California
x Psychological aspects.
Psychological aspects.
Silver, Roxane Cohen.
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University of Colorado, Boulder.
Natural Hazards Research and Applications Information Center.
t Natural Hazards Center Collection
H64 1994
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