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SAMHSA News - November/December 2005, Volume 13, Number 6


From Hurricane Response To Long-Term Recovery


Assembling Teams of Volunteers

Part 2
Within the SERC, Anne Mathews-Younes, Ed.D., Director of CMHS's Division of Prevention, Traumatic Stress, and Special Programs, served as one of the Deputy Incident Commanders. She managed logistics with Westover Inc., an Agency contractor, to provide "everything that was needed" to Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, and other storm-affected states.

For example, Dr. Mathews-Younes would receive a request for a team comprising specific professionals such as clinical psychologists or nurses or others from specific disciplines. She explained, "Then I would say to Westover, ‘This is what I need. Can you find them? And please find them as fast as you can.' "

It was a matter of finding the right people, hundreds of them, to fill the necessary roles. "There was an effort made to match skills and credentials of volunteers with specific requests for assistance," said Dr. Dodgen.

Several national organizations, or guilds, helped identify licensed professionals who met the criteria for deployment. Dr. Mathews-Younes explained, "They asked provider organizations to give them names of people who were licensed, were in good standing, had malpractice coverage, and were willing to be deployed."

Linking with the HHS national call for volunteers, SAMHSA created a special Web site, www.wcikatrinahelp.com, to help train and prepare professionals interested in volunteering. The Web site includes an online training video that explains the nature and scope of the work in progress.

As a result of this effort, more than 160 volunteer professionals were deployed in SAMHSA's Katrina Assistance Teams (KATs). The teams included psychiatrists, psychologists, nurses, social workers, substance abuse and pastoral counselors, and other mental health professionals with expertise across various disciplines.

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Thinking of Everything

During deployment, KAT members received "Go Packs" containing items volunteers would need in the impact zone—insect repellent, energy bars, sunscreen, bottled water, flashlights, and other essentials. Volunteers also received help making travel and accommodation arrangements, which wasn't an easy process. "There were no cars to rent, nowhere to stay," said Dr. Mathews-Younes. "It was a logistics challenge."

The SERC prepared more than 1,000 information packets for responders to hand out. These packets contain information on suicide prevention and warning signs, the Field Manual for Mental Health and Service Workers in Major Disasters, the Guide to Managing Stress in Crisis Response Professionals, and information on psychological issues for children and adults involved in disasters.

SERC staff kept a close eye on deployed personnel. Each person in the field was asked to call in each day. "And if they didn't hear from us, they called us," said Kevin Chapman, a Drug-Free Communities project officer in SAMHSA's Center for Substance Abuse Prevention. "They called just to make sure that we were doing okay. It was reassuring to know that you weren't out there alone."

So far, SAMHSA has deployed more than 60 of its professionals, with a total of about 200 people serving in the SERC or in the field.

SAMHSA Administrator Charles G. Curie, M.A., A.C.S.W., traveled four times to the affected states in September and October. "At every stop," he said, "officials articulated a clear need for services for mental health and substance abuse. During on-site visits, I had a chance to observe and assess the changing needs of the people we serve. As we move ahead, we will need to strengthen our capacity to engage affected individuals in planning new lives for themselves and help put the steps in place for them to take action."

From Pearlington, MS, the place on the meteorological charts where the eye of the storm made landfall, Dr. Hansen is convinced that the resilience of the townspeople who survived will help them endure the coming winter months. "Everything was pretty much leveled here in Pearlington," she said. "But this is their home, their home for generations. They don't want to leave."

"It's a privilege to be down here," added Dr. Hansen. "SAMHSA's here because it's an emergency—because making sure mental health and substance abuse treatment resources are readily available will make a long-term difference. Recovery is what we work toward at SAMHSA, so of course we're here to help."

HHS recently provided the SERC with an additional $5 million in funding to provide substance abuse counselors to Louisiana.

The SAMHSA Emergency Response Center will continue to deploy teams to the Gulf Coast area until the end of January 2006. For more information, visit SAMHSA's Web site at www.samhsa.gov.

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