Irene impact researched three years later

Irene impact researched three years later

December 16, 2014

Printed in The Times Argus
By Erin Mansfield

MIDDLEBURY — Five undergraduate students at Middlebury College are advising the state’s Department of Health to keep public mental health in the forefront of its research as the global climate shifts.

The students studied the lingering emotional effects of Tropical Storm Irene, which took place in 2011, and compiled the information this week in a research paper for the college’s Environmental Studies Program.

Anna Mullen, one of the paper’s authors, said “no one can definitely make the causal link” between the 2011 tropical storm and global climate change. But she said climate scientists predict more frequent, intense storms, so Irene can be used as a learning experience.

“I would say one of the primary things we found is there is still a strong emotional impact even three years later,” Mullen said.

“There’s definitely a range from people who are proud and excited about how their community responded,” she said. “And then there’s a wide range of emotions from fear and anxiety of it happening again.”

Piper Underbrink, another author on the paper, said Vermonters faced hurdles from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“There were people who spent a lot of time trying to get their lives materially back together,” she said.

“FEMA took a while with a lot of different cases to repay the cleanup,” Underbrink said. “That anxiety, in terms of monetarily, is still impacting a lot of people.”

Mullen said the group analyzed the data mostly in terms of positive and negative emotions as part of a capstone project in the Environmental Studies Program.

The group also found a trend among people who were integrated with their communities.

“People who were more involved in their community had better feelings,” she said. “Just the fact that we kept hearing people talk about that, even when they weren’t prompted to talk about community, was very telling.”

Mullen said, “We are not making specific policy recommendations. But we are making very specific recommendations to the Department of Health with regards to dealing and adapting to climate change in the future.”

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