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Michigan State Shooting: Recovery Requires Community Effort

Randall Bell, who recently published a book on disaster recovery, says communities and individuals must first acknowledge the pain and then begin the long, difficult process of recovery.

Michigan State University entrance sign
Shutterstock/University of College
As a “socio-economist,” Randall Bell, PhD, has consulted on disaster recoveries like Hurricane Katrina and the Sandy Hook shootings, countless natural disasters as well as man-made ones like the shooting that killed three at Michigan State University Tuesday night.

The event was yet another familiar tragedy that most of us can easily turn the page from. But for those who lost a loved one in the shooting or attend the university or are in one way or another traumatized by the event, recovery is a tenuous thing that will depend on some deliberate actions.

Bell, who recently released a book, Post-Traumatic Thriving: the Art, Science and Stories of Resilience, said mass shootings are some of the toughest tragedies to rebound from, especially the school-yard shootings.

“The thing is you have to go through the grief cycle, there’s no way around it,” he said. “There’s nothing pretty about it or easy about it, but some people just get destroyed.”

Bell said that for those very close to tragedy, such as having lost a family member or close friend in a shooting, it is helpful to develop a productive cause from the outcome.

“For those who heal and get back on their feet, they usually do something to memorialize the loved one. It doesn’t have to be a public-facing cause, but they do something.”

In any case, recovery is hard and takes individuals and communities time. In some cases, people just up and leave the area, such as with Hurricane Katrina, and never go back.

Bell said New Orleans began rebuilding very slowly after Katrina, and it took about a decade before you could go back to the area and not see the remnants of the hurricane. It takes a concerted effort and hard work for communities to bounce back from such a disaster.

He reiterated what most in emergency management already know and try to convey to their communities: Be self-reliant, and don’t think the government is going to come and rescue you during the first few days.

“Sometimes the government is more efficient than other times. I would never bank on the government coming and saving your bacon,” he said. “You have to do a lot of self-preservation because the first responders will be overwhelmed.”

He said Community Emergency Response Teams (CERTs) are immensely helpful during most disasters, including mass casualty events, such as shootings, and can speed the recovery process.

“If communities want to be smart, they should get a CERT program going,” Bell said. “There’s a little army of people who can help out with these mass casualty situations.”

In his book he uses years of experience with disasters and the people who have suffered through them to learn and reveal the ways in which individuals and communities can heal.

He says society tells us that it’s admirable to put on a brave face and soldier on. But it’s normal — essential — to acknowledge the pain before growth can be expected.