Supporting Surfside Responders
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.