Practical preparedness for mental health professionals
Many mental health professionals, particularly those who volunteer with their professional organizations, can prepare practically for disasters prior to the immediate need. In so doing you will want to keep the following in mind:
- Communication needs are essential in health care within a disaster zone, and traditional methods of communication may no longer work. Broadband internet (cable modem and DSL), land-line telephones, and cell phones all failed in the days following Hurricane Katrina. Consult with disaster relief agencies appropriate to your profession to prepare yourself for communication during disaster work.
- Travel and transportation are often compromised during disasters. Acquaint yourself with disaster status briefing sources in the State of Georgia so that you may plan accordingly for travel to and movement within the disaster area. You may also want to have a bicycle available for local transportation.
- Anticipate flexibility around your place of service. Your practice or office may be unusable after a disaster. Even if the structure is undamaged, loss of power and ventilation may prohibit seeing patients there. Consider alternative options for practice space in advance of a disaster, and again, contact your state professional association to see about organized alternative office facilities in the event of a disaster.
- Power and Electricity. Even a relatively minor disaster can cause loss of power for prolonged periods, and a major event (e.g., a Category Four Hurricane) can destroy the electric grid for three months or longer. A generator can improve quality of life and quality of practice while potentially reducing losses after a disaster.
- Essential Documents. All families should prepare for disaster by having important documents consolidated and readily available. Health care professionals, however, need to anticipate that copies of your credentials and licenses and hospital picture identification may be necessary for practice during times of disaster. You might consider preparing a folder with copies of your practice license, current CV, malpractice insurance face sheet, and other credentialing documents. You should also anticipate caring for patient records during times of disaster.
- Insurance. Most insurance policies have specific coverages and exclusions, and it is a good idea to scrutinize policies before, as well as after, a disaster to determine potential gaps in coverage to maximize return on losses.
- Personal Health. Disaster-related travel and practice presents some unique and significant health risks. Being aware of these prior to a disaster can contribute to your sense of preparedness during it.
Of course, along with physical preparedness it is essential to educate yourself about potential disasters in your area, to make disaster preparedness and intervention part of your professional identity, and most importantly to develop personal stress-management, coping, and resiliency practices to enable you to do your important work during and after disasters.
This pamphlet by the American Academy of Pediatrics gives information on disaster preparedness. Though pediatricians are the target audience, it has practical advice and suggestions for emergency situations. Topics include office preparedness, evacuation, transportation, communication, and insurance.
The Center for Disease Control’s site for Emergency Preparedness and Response focuses on increasing the nation’s awareness of emergency health threats and the public’s ability to prepare for and respond to them.