UAB experts give tips to picking up the pieces in the tornado aftermath

As Alabama begins to recover from the deadly storms of April 27, 2011, several University of Alabama at Birmingham experts offer tips on how to stay safe and heal emotionally.

tornadocleanupBe safe while cleaning up – “People wielding chainsaws, clearing damage and climbing on ladders can put themselves at risk, especially if they are tired or stressed,” says Loring Rue, M.D., UAB's chief of trauma surgery. “We urge everyone involved in clean-up efforts to think safety first.”

Keep things normal for your child – “Parents can help their children by keeping things as calm and as normal as possible,” says child psychologist Vivian Friedman, Ph.D.

“As best they can, parents should discuss their worries with other adults and not with their children,” she says. “It’s also a good idea to prepare children in advance for any major changes such as a move to a new home or city. If there are financial changes, it’s OK to tell a child, ‘You can’t have a cell phone this year because we’re having some problems.’ That’s an important part of growing up.

“But, you don’t want to make everything seem catastrophic by saying things like, ‘I don’t know how I’m going to make dinner tonight,’ because that’s just too scary for kids.”

Be there for your loved ones, emotionally – Ensure that you, your family and those around you have their basic physical needs met – food, clothing and shelter. It calms stress, says Josh Klapow, Ph.D., associate professor of public health.

Also, let people talk about what happened. “Lots of victims want to just kind of state over and over again what they’ve been through, and that helps them stay focused and reduce stress.”

Help people stay connected to each other, which can be challenging but important when normal routines have been disrupted. “Get that social network together; connect people with family friends, community. It will help reduce their stress so they can pay attention to the safety instructions,” he says.