Jessica Reyes

The Emotional Impact of Natural Disasters on Public Health: Santa Barbara Thomas Fire and Public Health Implications

Mentor: Deb Harris

The destructive and disruptive power of natural disasters always receives mass media coverage. Yet in the world of fast consumption of dramatic news, media tends to sensationalize the destruction and damage caused by natural disasters and quickly move on to more recent dramatic developments. What gets lost in the news coverage are the lasting psychological and emotional effects of natural disasters on the affected population, which often take much longer to diagnose and heal. As this is certainly true in the case of the Santa Barbara Thomas Fire and subsequent mudslide, I hope to highlight these complex emotional effects in the wake of the second biggest fire in California history, and bring attention to the profound and lingering consequences natural disasters continue to have on affected individuals. I intend to interview members of the Montecito community who were affected by the Santa Barbara Thomas Fire and following mudslide, documenting the psychological impacts they have undergone up to this point. Additionally, I am interested in understanding what resources were available to individuals at the time of the event and what could have been done differently to better prepare for and cope with natural disasters in the future. I will present my findings in a form of digital storytelling through the lens of trauma, including written testimonies, images, and videos. Ultimately, the purpose of my multimedia project is to provide insight into the wide-ranging and long-lasting effects of natural disasters on the emotional health of affected individuals, and how they have found ways to heal.