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On behalf of the international community of trauma specialists I want to extend a warm welcome to the psychologists from EMERCOM Russia. I recently participated in the conference organized by the Center for Emergency Psychological Response which is part of the Ministry of Civil Defense and Emergency Situations of the Russian Federation, or EMERCOM.

The conference was the 2nd International Conference on Psychological Consequences of Radio-nuclear and Other Catastrophes, which was held in Moscow (May 2013) as part of the VI International Exhibit - Integrated Safety and Security 2013. More than 20 federal executive authorities and state corporations and 500 companies took part in this global event.

The presentations by trauma educators, clinicians, researchers and disaster managers were divided into three sections- the general issues of emergency psychology; professional education of trauma specialists; and the organization of psychological assistance in the emergency situations. Psychologists from Russia, Armenia, Tadzhikistan and Ukraine were joined by specialists from the U.S.A., Japan, China, Germany and Netherlands. I had the pleasure of chairing the section on education and training of trauma specialists, a rapidly developing specialization in Russia which is becoming a priority in education.

The conference and the exhibit ended with simulated exercises on the training grounds in Moscow vicinities where rescue teams demonstrated excellence in coping with a wide variety of possible disasters, including train derailment, chemical plant explosion, plane crash, earthquake, and fire. Each situation involved different types of victims, including children (children of EMERCOM psychologists who had their own fun taking part in the role play in the psychological response module!)

Fig. 1 Participants of the 2nd International Conference on Psychological Consequences of Radio-nuclear and Other Catastrophes (Moscow 2013). Click photo for enlarged image.

EMERCOM's directing psychologist, Julia Shoigu, who has provided leadership for the Center since 2002 and assistant director, Maria Pavlova, invited conference guests to visit the Center. In their work the psychologists of EMERCOM utilize the principles of psychological first aid, which emphasizes de-pathologization and respect of survivors and the local culture. The psychologists in Russia face unique challenges, such as a lack of uniformity in training of psychologists, little community education and a referral system which is practically non-existent in some regions. In the absence of other supporting structures, EMERCOM psychologists created and developed their own infrastructure, which is at times the only support available for victims and their families.

The EMERCOM Center has 8 sites throughout the Russian Federation and is probably the most recognized organization of its kind with increasingly significant presence in Moscow and the regions. In addition to federal level operations, the specialists of the Center provide local responses in cases of fire, major accidents or suicide attempts. The Center’s visibility in the community is supported by their active participation in safety promotion programs and community education events. Where they often provide informational leaflets on fire safety and violence prevention.

Fig. 2 EMERCOM psychologists presenting a puppet show on fire safety for children. Click photo for enlarged image.

EMERCOM employs over 800 professionals in Moscow and other regions of the country. It provides assistance to victims and services for first responders, including screening, performance evaluation, vocational training, psychological support during the deployment, and post-deployment follow-up.

Structurally, the work of EMERCOM falls into four primary categories:

1. Psychological assistance for victims in emergency situations, in the aftermath of terrorist attacks and catastrophes
Center psychologists have accumulated a great deal of experience in providing responses and organizing psychological assistance for adults and children victims and members of their families. They are experienced in responding to terrorist attacks, fires, plane crashes, mining accidents and earthquakes.

Fig.3 The meditation room at EMERCOM. Click photo for enlarged image.

In January 2006 the Center opened its 24/7 Hot Line, operated by professional psychologists. In addition to providing psychological first aid via phone, the Hot Line serves as an information center and referral line during major disasters. The Hot Line offers psychological support to roughly 2,500 people annually. In 2008 EMERCOM implemented an internet portal which provides online emergency services and allows virtual access to professional help.

2. Professional services for first responders

Psychodiagnostics: Assessment of readiness for duty and specialized vocational training, as well as trauma screening. If results of the assessment indicate areas needing “improvement”, a referral is made to more advanced services listed below.

Prevention and Deployment Support: Services to prevent occupational hazards and assure career longevity. Includes psycho-education and development of professional skills, such as group leadership, social interactions and communication in emergency situations.

Post-deployment follow-up and rehabilitation: Addresses occupational health of first responders and mitigation of professional stresses. Includes individual psychotherapy (Center psychologists use hypnosis, mediation, CBT, gestalt therapy, positive therapy, body oriented therapy, expressive arts therapy, and kinesiotherapy); group trainings (anger management, self-regulation and relaxation, team building, conflict resolution, communication skills, and personal development ); and physical methods of rehabilitation such as spa and therapeutic massages, including Shiatsu, the Japanese massage.

Fig.4. The spa at EMERCOM. Click photo for enlarged image.

3. Outreach and International work
Provided emergency psychological aid to victims of an earthquake in the province of Sichuan, participated in an evacuation of Russian citizens from Palestine, and provided emergency psychological aid to victims and their families of a coach accident in Vietnam.

4. Research work, education and methods development
The Center actively participates in research activities. It works in close cooperation with academic institutions that develop specialized training for psychologists.

Fig. 5. The Director of Center Dr. Yulia Shoigu (middle) with international guests. Click photo for enlarged image.

I presented a workshop on psychological first aid for EMERCOM in 2011 and observed first-hand their professional and organizational growth in problematic regions. My previous experience was as a lecturer at Pyatigorsk Sate Linguistic University, located in southern Russia, where I was impressed that many of the psychology students saw EMERCOM psychologists as their role models.

I wish my all of my colleagues the best in their endeavors!

About the Author

Elena Cherepanov, PhD, is a certified trauma specialist and Chair of the Trauma Studies program at the School of Psychology and Counseling. Cambridge College. She specializes in collective and cultural trauma and complex emergencies. For questions, please contact Elena Cherepanov, PhD elena.cherepanov@cambridgecollege.edu.