Professor researches typhoon's psychological effects

Western Today staff
Monday, January 6, 2014 - 11:46am

When Super Typhoon Haiyan, one of the most powerful storms ever recorded, devastated the Philippines last November, it literally tore apart communities and challenged the country’s ability to provide even the most basic needs – clean drinking water, food, shelter – to hundreds of thousands of its people.

David Sattler, a Western Washington University professor of psychology and international disaster researcher, traveled to the island nation over winter break to investigate how this unprecedented storm, and others like it, affected the collective mental health of the nation’s people.

Coping with enduring natural disasters is central to life in the Philippines. One of the world’s most disaster prone countries; the island chain is struck by an average of eight typhoons a year and lies within the “Ring of Fire,” a geologic plate boundary that encircles the Pacific Ocean and is the source for deadly earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

What Sattler hopes to discover in his research is how repeated exposure to natural disaster influences perceptions of, and preparedness for, the next disaster threat; and how these repeated exposures affect psychological functioning. He is examining prevalence of posttraumatic stress disorder, forms of psychological trauma that effect virtually every aspect of life in the disaster’s aftermath, as well as resilience and coping.

“Our goals are to find ways to help improve disaster preparedness and aid intervention and recovery programs in providing services to survivors,” Sattler said. “Our thoughts are with the people of the Philippines as they rebuild their lives and communities.”

Conducting first-hand research in the wake of large scale disasters in foreign countries is often quite difficult because of reduced access to the affected areas, language issues, and the ability to recruit participants, but this isn’t the first time Sattler has journeyed to an area devastated by natural disaster to try and understand how to help communities and nations mentally rebuild after a calamity. His work in Thailand after the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami placed him at the forefront of research on the topic and led to the founding and creation of the International Tsunami Museum in Khaolak, Thailand; he also has examined devastating disasters in Indonesia, India, El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, and the United States.

For more information on Sattler’s research in the Philippines, contact him via email at


Super Typhoon Haiyan, one of the most powerful storms ever recorded, devastated the Philippines last November, and rebuilding efforts are still under way. Western Washington University Professor of Psychology and international disaster researcher David Sa