In large scale emergencies and disasters, the expected demand on the State mental health system will challenge even the most prepared agencies and resources. It is the responsibility of the Division of Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities and Addictive Diseases (DBHDD) and the Georgia Department of Public Health to ensure adequate volunteer personnel. To meet this responsibility, SERVGA has been established in order to provide an advance registry of healthcare volunteers. Disaster mental health professionals and para-professionals who are interested in serving as volunteers during emergencies and disasters should register in SERVGA now rather than waiting until an event occurs because volunteer registration during a disaster usually delays getting help to people in need .  

Disaster mental health is a unique intervention that is often more practical than psychotherapeutic in nature (e.g. meeting basic needs and assisting with tasks, listening, encouraging and comforting). Therefore, it requires special training that will prepare you to respond to the special needs of people who have been affected by disasters and emergencies. If you would like to become part of Georgia’s disaster mental health response team, you will need to complete the following training prior to registering in SERVGA.

Professionals and para-professionals who are interested in working with first responders and hospital personnel must have training in the following:


Mental health for health care responders following a disaster

The time immediately following a disaster, whether human-caused or natural, is critical to mental health.  This is a time and space in which our preparedness can pay off, in reducing paralyzing anxiety, uncertainty, and isolation.  This is a time when we are faced with what is sometimes impossible to “fix,” so it is important to do what we can, to remind ourselves that we have some control and responsibility, and to stay focused on meaningful work and activity.  There will be time for analysis (“Why did this happen to me?”) and sense-making later: now is the time because we can’t do everything, to do what we can. 
Here are some helpful suggestions borrowed and modified from the website (PDF)

Many professional organizations (e.g., physicians (PDF), licensed counselors (PDF)) will have specific disaster response committees or subgroups.

  • Be acquainted with and follow your professional guidelines for rendering aid in disasters (PDF). 
  • If you are able, contact local medical facilities appropriate to your practice.
  • Treat your injuries and those of others. Wash small wounds with soap and water. To help prevent infection of small wounds, use bandages and replace them if they become soiled, damaged, or waterlogged.  There is some helpful information on family first-aid following disasters here. (PDF)
  • Seek appropriate medical care for more severe injuries, to the extent that you can.  Access to medical professionals is often affected by disasters, but relief agencies such as the Red Cross have authorized providers(saved as Authorized providers) to furnish care during and after disasters.
  • Be prepared for some “ripples” of disasters, in that some natural hazards, like severe storms or earthquakes, may recur in the form of new storms or aftershocks over the next several days. Part of your mental health preparedness should involve acquainting yourself with common or possible disasters in the Georgia area (saved as Emergencies and Threats) and knowing the different consequences of each. 
  • Avoid using the telephone (either cellular or landlines) if a large number of homes in your area have been affected by a disaster. Emergency responders need to have the telephone lines available to coordinate their response. During the immediate post-disaster time period, only use the telephone to report life-threatening conditions and call your out-of-town emergency contact (PDF)
  • Remain calm. Pace yourself. You may find yourself in the position of taking charge of other people. Listen carefully to what people are telling you, and deal patiently with urgent situations first.  This is a time for focusing on the large questions (how to secure food, clothing, and shelter) but also doing what you can to be patient and trusting.  People of faith may find it helpful to pray or meditate(saved as Meditate). This and other methods of stress management are very important to mental health during and after a disaster.
  • If the disaster was widespread, listen to your radio or television station for instructions from local authorities. Information may change rapidly after a widespread disaster, so continue to listen regularly for updates. If the power is still out, listen to a battery-powered radio, television, or car radio.   Research shows that mental health during disasters is enhanced by the experience of connection and control, and diminished by isolation and retreat.  Try to stay connected with others by whatever means possible.  Even if you do not need to go to a shelter (PDF), it is helpful to remain in contact with and to be around others.

Web Links

Here you’ll find a very helpful overview of what to do during disasters.  It contains references to external links. (PDF)

The Georgia Emergency Management Agency coordinates and maintains disaster response facilities and procedures in the State. (PDF)

This is a very comprehensive and up-to-date site that, if computer access is possible during a disaster, should be the first place to go. (PDF)