WCSU partners with school counselors to respond to disasters

DANBURY, CONN. — When a disaster occurs in a community help pours in, from the federal government to caring individuals. Coordinating and categorizing the services and hardware becomes a major preoccupation and, because the situation is often frenzied, those who need the most intense help might not get it as quickly as they should.

Preparing for catastrophes before they happen is the key to an appropriate response, says Dr. Gabriel Lomas, professor of Education and Educational Psychology at Western Connecticut State University. That is why he helped to create a Regional Crisis Team to assist area schools in crisis response preparation. The team would serve to pool the resources of the university and partnering school districts in order to provide support immediately after an event such as a shooting, death, natural disaster or other crisis. Lomas was a member of a school-based crisis response team and clinical crisis response team in Texas, and has been working for several years to adapt a similar model for Connecticut schools.

The first three-day training session for Connecticut educators was held in the spring of 2014, with a curriculum based on work by the National Organization for Victim Assistance. Since then, counselors and other school helpers in the districts that belong to the Western Connecticut Superintendent’s Association have met monthly to continue their collaboration with unified training and professional development. The districts have agreed to provide mutual aide in the case of a crisis.

“If one district has a problem, we will all come to help them,” Lomas said. “One benefit is that all of the responders will have been vetted and trained in the same methods. When we respond, you will know that we know what we’re doing and will provide appropriate assistance.”

A crisis doesn’t have to rise to national prominence for the group to respond, Lomas said. The death of a student or colleague could trigger a call to the team.

In a situation like that, everyone is a victim – everyone is hurting,” Lomas said. “When a district realizes ‘We’re hurting, and it’s too big for us to handle alone,’ that’s when we respond. It increases the confidence levels of the people being helped.”

Lomas said his goal is to expand the training and collaboration throughout the state, which should give peace of mind to all community members, including parents.

“If parents know the staff at their child’s school has a high level of training,” he said, “they can be confident their kids will receive a high level of services at that school.”

For more information, call the Office of University Relations at (203) 837-8486.


Western Connecticut State University offers outstanding faculty in a range of quality academic programs. Our diverse university community provides students an enriching and supportive environment that takes advantage of the unique cultural offerings of Western Connecticut and New York. Our vision: To be an affordable public university with the characteristics of New England’s best small private universities.

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