Trauma Researcher Offers Tips on Preventing Tragedies Like Virginia Tech

Pay attention. That is one of three keys to preventing tragedies like the one at Virginia Tech, according to Kansas State University's Briana Nelson Goff.

Goff, interim assistant dean of K-State's College of Human Ecology and associate professor of family studies and human services, leads the Trauma Research, Education and Consultation at K-State, or Treck team. She also is coordinator of the Kansas All-Hazards Behavioral Health Program that helps educate those responding to disasters.

K-State's TRECK team focuses on conducting research and educating professional and the public about traumatic events and how they affect individuals, families and institutions.

Although no preventive measure is foolproof, Goff suggests three steps institutions and individuals can take: be aware, be prepared and take action.

First, pay attention to those around you. Research has shown that people are reluctant to get involved or do not feel equipped to help, Goff said. Learn to recognize cries for help. Take them seriously. “Cries for help might not be verbalized,” she said.

But note changes in behavior such as withdrawing from others, becoming increasingly angry or being uncommonly absent from class or work, Goff said.“A counselor might recognize symptoms and know how to deal with them, but someone without training might not,” she said. “We need to help faculty and staff gain skills to help students and colleagues.”

Second, institutions must have a plan of action that includes safety and communications. Most probably believe they are prepared until something happens, Goff said. Each individual should have a plan that includes whom to contact in an emergency, what personal phone calls to make and how to be safe in a dorm room, classroom or car, she said.

Third, take action. “If you recognize a problem, do something. Intervene, especially with students. Talk to them,” Goff suggested.

Lastly, Goff advised vigilance but not hyper-vigilance. “Don't become paranoid. Don't stay home and quit interacting with people. But do be aware of what's happening around you,” she said.

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