On 7 September 1999 an earthquake of 5.9 on the Richter scale hit the county of Attica, causing widespread damage to the area. The epicentre was placed in the area of Mount Parnis, about 18km north of Athens. According to official figures, 143 people were killed, 700 were injured, 40.000 families were left homeless or about 100.000 people. There was extensive damage to buildings (houses, industrial buildings, schools, hospitals, etc.) across the county and according to the Ministry of Environment, Land Planning and Public Works, 3.340 buildings were ordered to be demolished. The aftershocks from the earthquake continued over many months after and were quite intense.
There was prompt mobilization of state services immediately after the earthquake. There was close cooperation of all services involved in handling the crisis, such as the Coordination Centre of the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Internal Affairs , Civil Protection, the Army , Special Rescue Teem of the Fire Brigade (ΕΜΑΚ) , Ambulance services , Greek Police, the Earthquake Planning and Protection Organization (OASP ), the Greek Section of the Red Cross, the Medical School of the University of Athens, the University Psychiatry Clinic of the Eginiteion Hospital, the Association of Greek Psychologists, several non-governmental organizations such as Medicines du Monde et al.
The contribution of the Association of Greek Psychologists (AGP) in post disaster crisis intervention was of prime importance and this was structured in the following manner. Let it be noted that it was the first time in the history of the AGP that an operation of this nature and magnitude was organized.
The Association of Greek Psychologists made its members available to the Ministry of Health and the Local Authorities from the very beginning. There was an initial assessment of the situation in close coordination with the Ministry of Health, the Municipality of Menidi and other local authorities. There was an effort to collect as much data as possible regarding the number of people injured, the extent of the natural disaster, the demographic characteristics as in the area there is an significant number of immigrants and gypsies , the nature and type of problems that they were facing, the living conditions after the earthquake, etc. At the same time, we appealed to our colleagues to get in touch with the Association in order to offer their services on a voluntary basis. Assessment of the needs led to the following decisions and actions:
- Crisis Reception Center: The Crisis Reception Center of AGP was operating out of the KAPOTA military base in Menidi in the county of Attica. Its purpose was to offer immediate psychological support to the local population three days after the devastating earthquake. The CRC was in close contact and cooperation with the Coordination Centre of the Ministry of Health and Welfare , the Municipality of Menidi and the Local Authorities and was housed in the area of the Health services at the military base together with the other non-governmental organizations . Daily, for almost three months, fifty five clinical psychologists, members of the Association, offered their services on a voluntary basis.
Briefly post disaster intervention included psychological first aid and support , psychological debriefings (individual debriefing meetings , debriefing meetings with the relatives of the victims, family debriefing meetings, ) and group discussions led by psychologists with adults or adolescents or children or teachers . Also, noting and recording all psychiatric cases in the camps that were created for the homeless and referrals to the psychological and psychiatric services of the wider area.
- Mobile Unit of the Crisis Reception Center: The goal was to visit all the camps that were created for the homeless and the local schools with the purpose of offering information and practical advises to the inhabitants in handling the crisis.
- Intervention for the rescued from collapsed buildings: In order to care for the rescued from collapsed buildings clinical Psychologists conducted individual debriefing meetings with them in the General Hospitals. The above mentioned intervention was in close cooperation with the Coordination Centre of the Ministry of Health.
- Hot Line of Psychologists: Psychological first aid and support .This service was being widely advertised through the Mass Media .