Hundreds Attend Transportation Disaster Conference at SUNY New Paltz

NEW PALTZ, NY.Y --- The Institute for Disaster Mental Health at SUNY New Paltz held its 13th annual conference on the campus Friday. Nearly 350 people attended, one of the largest groups in its history.

Attendees included public health officials, first responders and emergency management officials, members of the National Guard and researchers of the conference.

"[It's] a conference on an effective psycho-social response to mass transportation disasters,” said SUNY New Paltz Director of Institute of Disaster Mental Health James Halpern.

Conference attendees also had a chance to meet with service dogs who aid in mental and emotional health for survivors for transportation accidents. New York is a major hub for transportation, and officials say it’s important for the local community to know what to do if a transportation disaster occurs.

"Actually, here in New Paltz, we have students going back and forth to New York City," Halpern said, "and these incidents, these accidents do occur and we need to prepare effectively for them."

"It's incredibly important for the public to be prepared," said City of Philadelphia Director of Emergency Management Samantha Phillips. "We can't do this work if we're responding to things with an unprepared community. They really are our first responders, and the importance of prepared communities really makes our work much easier, but resilient communities really helps with the longer-term recovery."

The conference included workshops and panel discussions, including Phillips, who gave firsthand knowledge on responding to the Amtrak derailment that occurred last May.

"I was just talking about the role of local emergency management and disaster response," she said, "how we do everything from coordinate the on-scene response activities to caring for victims' families and survivors, but also the city-wide coordination."

To find out how you can be better prepared for an emergency in your area, you can contact your local Red Cross.

"Do your part, be prepared," Phillips said. "Work with [and] talk to your local Red Cross, your local government organization, about how to be prepared if you need some training."

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