Supporting Surfside Responders

Faculty members of UCF RESTORES helped support the mental health of first responders at the collapse of the Champlain Towers South condo building in Surfside, Florida. 

Fall 2021 By Rachel Williams ’15 ’20MA and Jenna Marina Lee

A week after the tragic collapse of the Champlain Towers South condominium in Surfside, Florida, a first responder approached UCF RESTORES Executive Director Deborah Beidel with concerns about jewelry he found among the rubble. He worried about whom it belonged to and the significance it held.

“With discoveries like this, you’re helping people get a part of their relative back,” Beidel said to the first responder. “You’ve helped them get closure.”

He hadn’t really thought of it that way.

It’s conversations like these that Beidel and faculty members David Rozek and Amie Newins engaged in as the clinician support team for the approximately 500 first responders who worked to uncover victims at the Surfside disaster site.

UCF RESTORES — a nationally known nonprofit trauma research center and treatment clinic with a mission to change the way PTSD is understood, diagnosed and treated — is the mental health partner of the Florida Firefighters Safety and Health Collaborative, a nonprofit organization that educates and trains firefighters on physical and mental health. The collaborative contacted UCF RESTORES to come to Surfside to be on hand to help first responders. Their work at the site was later featured on ABC’s GMA3, a spinoff of Good Morning America.

UCF RESTORES is now launching a study where they will monitor the mental wellness of the first responders who were deployed to Surfside. The assessments will be administered monthly for the next year.

The clinic’s unique approach to treatment, which combines exposure therapy using emerging technology like virtual reality, and individual and group therap sessions, has resulted in 76% of first responders no longer meeting the diagnostic criteria for PTSD following three weeks of intensive treatment.

“When you have people who have spent their lives helping others, it’s hard [ for them] to ask for help. There’s no one reaction to trauma, and we want them to know we’re here to help them through it.”
Deborah Beidel

To learn more about UCF RESTORES efforts to help Surfside first responders, visit this UCF Today story. To learn more about UCF RESTORES work with changing the way PTSD is treated, diagnosed and treated, visit the organization’s site.


Mementos were left at the site of where the Champlain Towers South condominium once stood.

Mementos were left at the site of where the Champlain Towers South condominium once stood.


First responders at the Surfside collapse.

Search and rescue teams worked 12-hour shifts for weeks in rain, high winds, heat and humidity at the sight of the disaster that killed 98 people.


UCF faculty members from UCF RESTORES

Florida Firefighters Safety and Health Collaborative’s David Rozek (left) along with UCF faculty members and RESTORES staff  Deborah Beidel (center) and Amie Newins (right) were on site to offer assistance to first responders.