Post-traumatic stress among rescue workers after terror attacks in Norway

Occup Med (Lond). 2016 Oct;66(7):528-35. doi: 10.1093/occmed/kqw063. Epub 2016 Jun 20.


Background: On 22 July 2011, Norway was struck by two terror attacks. Seventy-seven people were killed, and many injured. Rescue workers from five occupational groups and unaffiliated volunteers faced death and despair to assist victims.

Aims: To investigate the level of, and associations between, demographic variables, exposure and work-related variables and post-traumatic stress symptoms (PTSS).

Methods: A cross-sectional study of general and psychosocial health care personnel, police officers, firefighters, affiliated and unaffiliated volunteers were conducted ~10 months after the terror attacks. The respondents answered a self-reported questionnaire. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) Checklist - specific (PCL-S) assessed PTSS.

Results: There were 1790 participants; response rate was 61%. About 70% of the professional rescue workers had previous work experience with similar tasks or had participated in training or disaster drills. They assessed the rescue work as a success. Firefighters and unaffiliated volunteers reported more perceived threat compared with the other groups. Among the professional personnel, the prevalence of sub-threshold PTSD (PCL 35-49) was 2% and possible PTSD (PCL ≥ 50) 0.3%. The corresponding figures among the unaffiliated volunteers were 24% and 15%, respectively. In the multivariate analysis, female gender (β = 1.7), witnessing injured/dead (β = 2.0), perceived threat (β = 1.1), perceived obstruction in rescue work (β = 1.6), lower degree of previous training (β = -0. 9) and being unaffiliated volunteers (β = 8.3) were significantly associated with PTSS.

Conclusions: In the aftermath of a terror attack, professional rescue workers appear to be largely protected from post-traumatic stress reactions, while unaffiliated volunteers seem to be at higher risk.

Keywords: Post-traumatic stress disorder; professional rescue workers; terror.; volunteers.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Firefighters / psychology
  • Firefighters / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Norway / epidemiology
  • Police / psychology
  • Police / statistics & numerical data
  • Prevalence
  • Rescue Work*
  • Risk Factors
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / epidemiology
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / etiology*
  • Terrorism / psychology*
  • Workforce