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Framework for Research on Children's Reactions to Disasters and Terrorist Events

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  04 October 2012

Betty Pfefferbaum*
Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, College of Medicine, Terrorism and Disaster Center, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma USA
Mary A. Noffsinger
Terrorism and Disaster Center, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA; and Courtroom Sciences, Inc., Irving, Texas USA
Kathleen Sherrieb
Departments of Psychiatry and of Community and Family Medicine, Dartmouth Medical School, and National Center for Disaster Mental Health Research, Hanover, New Hampshire, and National Center for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, White River Junction, Vermont USA
Fran H. Norris
Departments of Psychiatry and of Community and Family Medicine, Dartmouth Medical School, and National Center for Disaster Mental Health Research, Hanover, New Hampshire, and National Center for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, White River Junction, Vermont USA
Correspondence: Betty Pfefferbaum, MD, JD Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences College of Medicine University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center PO Box 26901, WP 3470 Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 73126-0901 USA E-mail


Clinical work and research relative to child mental health during and following disaster are especially challenging due to the complex child maturational processes and family and social contexts of children's lives. The effects of disasters and terrorist events on children and adolescents necessitate diligent and responsible preparation and implementation of research endeavors. Disasters present numerous practical and methodological barriers that may influence the selection of participants, timing of assessments, and constructs being investigated. This article describes an efficient approach to guide both novice and experienced researchers as they prepare to conduct disaster research involving children. The approach is based on five fundamental research questions: “Why?, Who?, When?, What?, and How?” Addressing each of the “four Ws” will assist researchers in determining “How” to construct and implement a study from start to finish. A simple diagram of the five questions guides the reader through the components involved in studying children's reactions to disasters. The use of this approach is illustrated with examples from disaster mental health studies in children, thus simultaneously providing a review of the literature.

PfefferbaumB, NoffsingerMA, SherriebK, FranH., NorrisFH.. Framework for Research on Children's Reactions to Disasters and Terrorist Events. Prehosp Disaster Med. 2012;27(6):1-10.

Comprehensive Review
Copyright © World Association for Disaster and Emergency Medicine 2012

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