Mental Health

How do Mental Health Care Professionals Contribute to Community Disaster Preparedness?

Based on a very helpful set of principles of preparedness, we offer the following specific ways in which mental health care professionals might contribute to community planning for disasters in ways that will allow you to respond personally and also be able to do your important work in your communities. Some of this information is based on a document prepared by the American Psychological Association Disaster Response Network and the Social Work Disaster Resource Network website, which you may want to consult in their entirety.

Community Demographic Characteristics

  • Who are the most vulnerable people in the community? Where do they live? What are their specific health care needs?
  • What kinds of families live in the community (i.e., single-parent households)?
  • How could individuals be identified and reached in a disaster?
  • Are policies and procedures in place to collect, maintain, and review current demographic data for any area that might be affected by a disaster?

Cultural Groups

  • What cultural groups (ethnic, racial, and religious) live in the community?
  • Where do they live, and what are their special needs?
  • What are their values, beliefs, and primary languages as they relate to health care and to mental health disaster preparedness?
  • Who is knowledgeable about the culture or is an informal leader in the community?

Socioeconomic Factors

  • Are there recognizable socioeconomic groups with special needs?
  • How many live in rental property? How many own their own homes?
  • Does the community have any special economic considerations that might affect people’s vulnerability to disaster and their health care needs?

Mental Health Resources

  • What mental health service providers serve the community?
  • What skills and services does each provider offer?
  • What gaps, including lack of cultural competence, might affect disaster services?
  • How could the community’s mental health resources be used in response to different types of disasters?
  • What is the relationship between the health care and the mental health care communities?

Nongovernmental Organizations’ Roles in a Disaster

  • What are the roles of the American Red Cross (ARC), interfaith organizations, and other disaster relief organizations?
  • What resources do nongovernmental agencies offer, and how can local mental health services be integrated into their efforts?
  • What mutual aid agreements exist?
  • How can mental health providers collaborate with private disaster relief efforts?

Community Partnerships

  • What resources and support would community and cultural/ethnic groups provide during or following a disaster?
  • Do the groups hold pre-existing mutual aid agreements with any state or county agencies?
  • Who are the key informants/gatekeepers of the impacted community?
  • Has a directory of cultural resource groups, potential volunteers, and community informants who have knowledge about diverse groups been developed?
  • Are the community partners involved in all phases of disaster preparedness, response, and recovery operations?

The Impact Pyramid

Mental
  • Individual victims
  • Family and social networks
  • Rescue workers, mental health care providers, their families and social networks
  • Vulnerable populations and impacted businesses
  • Ordinary people and their communities
  • Help disaster preparedness and planning groups, tailor disaster planning to the local risk situation. Hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods (saved as Natural Disaster Brochures), for example, are far more likely in Georgia than are earthquakes.
  • Collaborate with other professionals working in the mental health field, such as physicians, nurses, and especially school personnel.

Emphasize the psychosocial implications of disasters in your planning, as systems of health care delivery are disrupted. Make yourself available to community and school boards and as a guest speaker, taking advantage of disaster-specific lecture materials to lend your perspectives on the health care components of preparedness.

Volunteer through your professional organization or through the Red Cross to enhance your familiarity with disaster preparedness and your contribution to community planning.

Web Links

Titled “Standing Together,” this is a guide to disaster planning for the entire community.

This pamphlet by the American Psychiatric Association has practical and useful information on creating and implementing a disaster plan.

This article comprehensively outlines the phases of disaster planning and the factors that need to be taken into account during the planning process.

The Center for Disease Control's web page for disaster preparedness covers the materials that might be beneficial in a disaster. This article addresses responses to disasters and the phases of recovery.