Disaster Behavioral Health Services

Following a disaster, emergency or incident, it is common for those in and around the impacted region to experience distress and anxiety about safety, health and recovery. Previous exposure to large scale or catastrophic incidents, such as a major hurricane or flood, might place residents and responders who experience a new disaster at greater risk for adverse stress reactions. The effects of a disaster, terrorism incident or public health emergency can be long-lasting and the resulting trauma can affect those not directly exposed to the incident. Disaster behavior health interventions are designed to address incident-specific stress reactions rather than ongoing behavioral health needs.

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.

The majority of disaster behavioral health activities are accomplished by state, local, tribal and territorial entities, and Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters. 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 Services staff assist the Texas Division of Emergency Management's state-level and local emergency management planning efforts related to behavioral health issues in coordination with the Emergency and Risk Management Division of Health and Human Services. Staff serve as subject matter experts and participate in many disaster behavioral health-related preparedness activities.

Disaster Behavioral Health Services is responsible for managing disaster behavioral health preparedness, response and recovery efforts for Texas before, during and after local, state or federally declared disasters, emergencies and incidents. 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 to Texas Disaster District chairs and committees, related to behavioral health issues arising 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 and volunteers.
  • Coordinating activities of the Texas Critical Incident Stress Management Network.
  • Preparing and submitting the state application(s) for the Federal Emergency Management Agency-funded Crisis Counseling Assistance and Training Program grants.
  • Administer, provide technical assistance and monitor compliance of Crisis Counseling Assistance and Training Program grant staff and providers.
  • Providing and coordinating the required Crisis Counseling Assistance and Training Program training and 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 evacuees in shelters, temporary housing, schools, and animal and agricultural facilities.

However, widespread and catastrophic incidents can significantly impact their ability to provide services. When local behavioral health resources become overwhelmed, state and federal assistance might be made available after a disaster.

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