On September 11, 2001, Cop 2 Cop peer support program staff in New Jersey provided peer and crisis support to officers most impacted by the terrorist disaster, which continued for over a decade. There were lessons learned, with officers sharing initial themes of anger, hypervigilance, secondary trauma and grief as common issues for rescuers providing rescue and recovery. Resilience themes emerged, with rescuers strong in their unity, family relationships, self-awareness and spirituality becoming core values as the Port Authority Police Department (PAPD) exemplified selfless service and heroism. Twenty years later, we revisit the “Ten Commandments” of responding to terrorism first published in 2001, informed by 20 years of peer support and over 100,000 Cop 2 Cop contacts.
The Ten Commandments of the psychological response to terrorism
- Know thyself. Never lose sight of the fact that the terrorist act is designed to engender psychological instability, especially demoralization. A terrorist act can induce a state of psychological uncertainty, personal vulnerability, frustration and even demoralization for all affected. Our Cop 2 Cop lesson learned is that it can also highlight your resilience and ability to overcome suffering. The mental health of those fighting terrorism is a crucial resource in your fight. Specialized resilience training in stress resistance may serve as psychological body armor.
- “Know thy enemy as you know thyself” (Sun Tzu). While it is essential to know oneself — strengths, weaknesses, normal reactions, more severe reactions — it is also essential to know the enemy. Resources must be allocated to the analysis and prediction of the enemy’s behavior. Another Cop 2 Cop lesson learned for rescuers is that there may be many variables creating challenges for your mission, organizational trauma, politics, funding, etc., which may be perceived as an enemy to your recovery mission.
- “And he shall lead them.”
Crisis leadership aims to foster productivity while encouraging recognition of emotional and psychological implications of terrorist events. The goal is to maximize productivity of the workforce within units or agencies. The lessons learned include that grief leadership skills, suicide prevention and awareness, substance abuse
issues and practical applications pertaining to policy and logistics to sustain officer wellness are essential.
- “It was then that I carried you.” Establish psychological support initiatives utilizing crisis intervention hotlines, outreach personnel and crisis centers as needed. Given that the target of the terrorist is the mind and that terrorism is psychological warfare, any resource directed to support psychological health may not only be seen as fostering health but may be seen as fostering national defense. The lessons learned highlight law enforcement peer support as the ideal approach for counterterrorism agencies, with options for employee assistance programs, spiritual, faith-based resources and psychological first aid as key services.
- Honor thy family. For counterterrorism personnel, family is not only a source of support, but they may inadvertently become a target for expressed frustrations. The increased tours of duty, danger, chaos and uncertainty in one’s own life can get transferred to family members, depleting their ability to provide support and making them tertiary victims. The lesson learned is that family discord may be seen to increase as stress increases, so family resilience must be fostered.
- Be your brother’s keeper. Encourage steps that seem to reestablish a sense of physical safety and psychological safety for the public at large. Information is power; rumors can be destructive to the workforce, family and community. Skills in crisis communications are essential. Our Cop 2 Cop lessons learned include the impact of social media, and current public opinion of law enforcement officers may impact officers negatively. Peer support and gatekeeper models like QPR for suicide prevention following any crisis will be most effective.
- Foster the familiar. Reestablish normal communication, transportation, economic, educational and work schedules as soon as possible. There is safety in the familiar. The greater the disruption to normal routines, the greater the perceived adversity. Lessons learned include officer wellness as a routine focus for a mind-body-integrated approach to balance in life for resilience.
- Honor the living and the dead — the cross at ground zero. Understand and utilize the power of symbols as a means of reestablishing cohesion. Flags, signs and patriotic slogans can create a universal experience and connection among units, agencies and civilians. Most public safety personnel do not seek recognition but instead shy away from accolades, as humility is a common quality among them. Our Cop 2 Cop lesson learned is that it is imperative to allow for recognition and acknowledgment through ceremonies, symbols and rituals of closure for healing and recovery.
- Start anew. At times, there will be a need to move an organization, community or nation ahead after some catastrophic experience by creating a new epoch or era of rebirth … “a new beginning.” Public safety personnel’s return to “normal” life may be perceived as antithesis and mundane. The lesson learned at Cop 2 Cop highlighted psychological reentry programs to facilitate healing for law enforcement and search and rescue personnel (Castellano, 2003).
- “That which does not kill me makes me stronger”
(Nietzsche). Positive outcomes and growth can occur for some who are exposed to a terrorist event (Calhoun, Terdeshi, 2000). An opportunity to experience oneself as better after exposure to trauma in three areas may arise; personal awareness, spiritual growth and family resolutions. Not everyone needs psychological services after a traumatic event! The lesson learned is that although well intended, early psychological support may be counterproductive if a.) it interferes with tactical assessment and counterterrorism efforts, b.) it is applied in such a way as to interfere with natural recovery mechanisms (Everly, 2003) or c.) it intensifies the manifest level of experienced traumatization (Dyregrov, 1999).
At Cop 2 Cop, our professional peer counselors, who are retired officers, have shared that the opportunity to serve the 9/11 rescuers for the last 20 years has been an honor we all are forever grateful and humbled to be part of as a life-changing event. If you have questions or would like more information, please visit njcop2cop.com or contact us at (866) 267-2267.
As seen in the September 2021 issue of American Police Beat magazine.
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