Michael White has been a long-term member of the Sheriff’s Search and Rescue Team.
by Jennifer Tipton
Filling in as the acting Disaster Services Coordinator for Ventura County Behavioral Health for just several months, Michael White had already been a lead in Behavioral Health’s Disaster Response Team for several years and a long-term member of the Sheriff’s Search and Rescue Team.
In the event of a disaster, Michael and his staff respond to the individuals who have experienced a traumatic event, such as the recent Thomas Fires. Michael states, “the orientation that we take is psychological first aid (P.F.A.), it’s not therapy or trauma counseling, it’s a first aid response that entails listening, validation and normalizing their reaction to the event. We provide education and resources to help them establish a plan.” The teams also provide debriefing to the responders.
Michael is overcome with how rapidly his team acted, “the staff came together with administration even though some were directly affected by the fire themselves.” Teams were mobilized immediately after their initial meeting at 7 a.m. on Tuesday, December 5th and over the course, a total of 478 staff have filled 121 assignments with over 3,000 hours response time collectively.
“From a mental health perspective, I’ve learned a lot about the sheer generosity and resilience of this community, many people had a strong support group already in place and the need for mental health services was minimal”, Michael said.
Although the immediate crisis has subsided, Michael states the next phase will be slower, but his team will still be responding to community needs. “It’s going to shift, people that have held it together during the initial crisis may struggle in the coming weeks”, he said and he wants us all to be aware that just because someone appeared to be doing well initially, the overwhelming support we saw at first has now subsided and some individuals are left very much alone. He warns, in the next couple months, we’ll see who needs additional support, so we still need to keep an eye out for our neighbors and added one last thought,
“whenever there’s tragedy, there’s always an opportunity for hope and positive change.”
If you or someone you know has a mental health emergency or seeking services, please don’t hesitate to call the 24 hour crisis assessment referral line: (866) 998-2243.