Following a disaster, emergency or incident, those in and around the impacted region commonly experience distress and anxiety about their safety, health and recovery. Previous exposure to large-scale or catastrophic incidents, such as a major hurricane or mass violence incident, can also create a greater risk of adverse stress reactions for residents and responders who are experiencing a new disaster. The effects of a disaster, terrorism incident or public health emergency can be long-lasting, and the resulting trauma can affect those indirectly exposed to the incident.
Disaster behavioral health addresses the psychological, emotional, cognitive, developmental and social impacts that disasters, emergencies or incidents have on survivors and first responders as they respond and recover. Disaster behavior health interventions are designed to address incident-specific stress reactions rather than ongoing behavioral health needs.
Most disaster behavioral health activities are conducted by state, local, tribal and territorial entities, and the Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters network. The goals of disaster behavioral health are to relieve stress, reinforce healthy coping strategies, mitigate future behavioral health problems, and promote individual and community resilience.
HHS Disaster Behavioral Health Coordination (DBHC) staff assist the Texas Division of Emergency Management, in coordination with the Emergency and Risk Management Division of HHS, in any state and local emergency management planning efforts related to behavioral health issues. DBHC staff serve as subject matter experts and participate in many disaster behavioral health-related preparedness activities.
DBHC is responsible for managing disaster behavioral health preparedness and response and recovery efforts before, during and after events that are declared a disaster, emergency or incident by a local, state or federal official. Depending on the size and scope of the incident, these services might include:
- Coordinating the inclusion of disaster behavioral health best practices and resources in federal, state and local emergency management planning efforts.
- Coordinating the deployment of available disaster behavioral health resources in response to State of Texas Assistance Requests.
- Providing technical assistance on behavioral health issues to Texas Disaster District chairs and committees during and after disasters.
- Providing technical assistance, best practices, tools and psychoeducational materials for local providers, contractors, disaster survivors, crime victims and survivors, and first responders in impacted communities.
- Coordinating the provision of acute and ongoing stress management and crisis counseling services for disaster survivors, crime victims and survivors, and emergency responders.
- Coordinating stress management and counseling services at the local level through trained disaster behavioral health staff, local providers and volunteers.
- Coordinating activities of the Texas Critical Incident Stress Management Network and other peer support entities across the state.
- Preparing and submitting state applications for Crisis Counseling Assistance and Training Program grants through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA).
- Administering response and long-term recovery efforts delivered through Crisis Counseling Assistance and Training Program grant staff and providers, as well as providing technical assistance and monitoring compliance.
- Providing and coordinating the required Crisis Counseling Assistance and Training Program education for local mental health authority staff and other providers participating in the grant program.
Local mental health authorities are among the first to respond to disaster behavioral health needs in their areas. Response and recovery activities might include providing acute and ongoing stress management and counseling services to survivors in shelters, resiliency centers, temporary housing, schools, and animal and agricultural facilities.
However, widespread and catastrophic incidents can significantly impact the ability of a mental health authority to provide services. When local behavioral health resources become overwhelmed, additional state and federal assistance may be made available after a disaster.