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Dr. Sharon Brennan Deployed by American Red Cross to Help in Aftermath of Las Vegas Shooting

November 20, 2017

Dr. Sharon Brennan Deployed by American Red Cross to Help in Aftermath of Las Vegas Shooting

The American Red Cross sent NYSPA member Dr. Sharon Brennan to Las Vegas after 58 people were killed and more than 500 people were wounded in a mass shooting at a music festival on Sunday, Oct. 1.

“I was deployed to Las Vegas on Oct. 3,” says Dr. Brennan, “and I was there until Oct. 13 as a mental health volunteer to help family members and survivors of the shooting at the Route 91 festival.”

Some 22,000 concertgoers were attending the annual outdoor country music festival held across from the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. During the closing performance of the festival, a gunman in the hotel began shooting at the crowd with a horrible and frightening result.

“Many concertgoers were terrified and aware of the possible extinction of their life,” Dr. Brennan says. “Many kept recalling the shattering bullets trying to attack them in multiple directions. For some, the sound of gunshots reverberated in their heads. A number of survivors had horrifying nightmares and sleepless nights. Many were afraid of leaving their homes, going outside, and being alone. For some, coming to the multi-service, Family Assistance Center for support was the first time they felt able to leave their apartment or home.”

“Numerous survivors had intense anxiety and kept reliving the event in their minds,” recalls Dr. Brennan. “It was very hard for some to initially go back to work and continue on with their lives, as usual. They needed time and support and many wanted to refind the center and meaning of their life. Some felt guilt. Why did they survive and others did not? Many helped others over fences and walls, while some regretted that, as they ran in terror for their lives, they had not been able to help or carry the wounded.”

When the shooting started, many people dropped everything and ran to safety, leaving behind cellphones, purses, wallets, etc. The FBI collected all items that were left at the scene. Later, as survivors came to the Assistance Center, they were able to retrieve their personal articles.

According to Dr. Brennan, “As they retrieved their lost items, it was a positive experience that helped them to reconnect with and regain a lost part of their life.”

A special bond was created with the survivors, “Connection was made with others as they shared the experience and how it impacted their lives. They could all understand what others were going through.”

Dr. Brennan helped them to begin to heal. She reassured them that they were now safe, helped them connect to their strengths, and gave them strategies to cope and to embrace their new life in the aftermath of this horror.

“Their courage to come and open up with other survivors helped them cope during this difficult time in their lives,” comments Dr Brennan. “The support they had for one another was what they all needed to get through this.”

Dr. Brennan has participated in the American Psychological Association’s Disaster Resource Network for two decades.

The Disaster Resource Network is a group of licensed psychologists from across the United States and Canada who have expertise in the psychological impact of disasters on individuals, families and communities.

The American Red Cross was the first organization to call on mental health practitioners to volunteer their expertise with those in need. When a major disaster occurs, the American Red Cross knows that the people affected need not only food or shelter, but also emotional support.
The American Psychological Association developed a contract with the American Red Cross to help deploy those with special skill sets to assist with natural disasters.

In July 1996, Dr. Brennan volunteered for the first time when the Trans World Airlines Flight 800 exploded and crashed into the Atlantic Ocean near East Moriches, N.Y.

On Sept. 11, 2001, Dr. Brennan was part of the first mental health team sent to ground zero. She worked through the night of Sept. 11 at Stuyvesant High School, located across the street from the ground zero command center. She and fellow mental health volunteers offered support and encouragement to the first responders, including firemen and police officers, who responded to the tragedy of that day.

Dr. Brennan’s deployment to Las Vegas was her first national deployment.

Dr. Brennan earned a PhD in Clinical Psychology from New York University. She also has a certificate in Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis from the New York University Postdoctoral Program and a postdoctoral certificate in child/adolescent psychotherapy from Adelphi University. She is Chair of the NYSPA Disaster Resource Network, and she is in private practice in New York City.

By Sara Wheeler

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