By Jon Bowen
As a relentless track of hurricanes pounded the Nation's
Gulf Coast and triggered tornados and flooding throughout
the Southeast region in August and September, SAMHSA
mobilized its Emergency Services Team to ensure that
substance abuse and mental health agencies would have
the resources they needed to weather these storms and
sustain public services.
"There's the initial impact, and then there's
the longer process of recovery," said Seth Hassett,
M.S.W., Chief of the Emergency Mental Health and Traumatic
Stress Services Branch at SAMHSA's Center for Mental
Health Services (CMHS). "Right from the start, we
know that this is going be a several-month effort."
State agencies and local service providers have access
to technical assistance, publications, funding opportunities,
and sample emergency plans through the SAMHSA Web site.
The site provides ongoing alerts regarding disaster readiness
and response. Services available in the aftermath of
the season's four major hurricanes—Charley, Frances,
Ivan, and Jeanne—are posted on the site.
Port Charlotte, FL, after Hurricane Charley. In response
to the growing need for aid in Florida, SAMHSA is
awarding an additional $11 million to help those
in need of substance abuse and mental health clinic
services, interventions, and treatment.
In response to the growing need for aid in Florida,
SAMHSA is awarding an additional $11 million to help
those in need of substance abuse and mental health clinic
services, interventions, and treatment. SAMHSA joins
the Administration on Aging, the Administration for Children
and Families, and the Health Resources and Services Administration
in this effort.
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SAMHSA's Team in Action
Just before Hurricane Ivan roared ashore in mid-September,
teams of SAMHSA personnel prepared for the storm's landfall.
Officials from all three SAMHSA Centers reached out to
grantees across the Gulf Coast to solidify a broad network
"A hurricane is a disaster that crosses a lot
of geographical boundaries," said Mr. Hassett. "Our
goal is to help get the communities back on the path
Officers from the SAMHSA Disaster Technical Assistance
Center (SAMHSA DTAC) called all state mental health and
substance abuse disaster coordinators in the storm's
path to offer assistance. Through SAMHSA DTAC, state
officials and local service providers were able to request
help with grant applications, emergency plans, and other
"They [SAMHSA DTAC] went to extended hours to
be more available," said SAMHSA Emergency Management
Coordinator Dan Dodgen, Ph.D. "They pulled together
vital information and provided consultation."
With Ivan looming, the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention's
Division of Workplace Programs used a special software
program to produce a list of SAMHSA grantees situated
in the path of the storm. Using this information, SAMHSA
staff members were able to contact grantees, help them
prepare, gauge the damage sustained during the storms,
and offer assistance.
David Morrissette, D.S.W., of the SAMHSA Community Support Program at the Center for Mental Health Services was deployed to Florida after Hurricane Charley as part of the Commissioned Corps Readiness Force.
At the same time, SAMHSA developed a list of deployable
civilian personnel for responding to the hurricanes.
Simultaneously, through the Commissioned Corps Readiness
Force of the U.S. Public Health Service, SAMHSA staffers
arrived in various locations to help, including CAPT
Carol Rest-Minchberg, CAPT Peter Delany, LCDR Wanda Finch,
LCDR David Morrissette, and LT Christine Guthrie.
While the Gulf Coast bore the brunt of the storms,
states in the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic regions suffered
through hurricane-related tornados and flooding. SAMHSA
worked with officials in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana,
Mississippi, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania,
West Virginia, and Puerto Rico to offer support and assist
"When we have a large multi-state disaster, we
need to have the capacity to work with several states
at one time," said Mr. Hassett.
U.S. Public Health Service officers sent to Port Charlotte and Punta Gorda, FL, after Hurricane Charley included members of the Mental Health Team: (left to right) Front row: CDR Paul Andreason, LCDR Mike Murray, Judy Farrar, Iris Crane, and LT Doug Mowell. Back row: LT Mike Tillus and LCDR Dave Morrissette. Ms. Farrar and Ms. Crane served as Mental Health Coordinators.
In Florida, SAMHSA is working with the U.S. Department
of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management
Agency (FEMA) on Project Hope, a crisis counseling and
training assistance program grant designed to help Florida
agencies recover and rebuild. Project Hope, operated
through the Florida Department of Children and Families,
offers a toll-free information and referral hotline.
"We've been doing a whole variety of things to
strengthen state planning," said Mr. Hassett. "We've
had a particular emphasis on joint planning to foster
our all-hazards work."
For most of the mental health and substance abuse agencies
and local service providers in Florida and other states
affected during this hurricane season, responding to
disasters is not their usual line of business. And yet,
when a hurricane or some other disaster suddenly strikes,
these agencies need immediate resources to help them
"Their usual job isn't disaster response,"
said Dr. Dodgen, "but now here they are in a disaster.
So what do they do?"
SAMHSA offers help through personnel, the Agency's
Web site, the SAMHSA DTAC, and collaborative programs
like Project Hope.
"It's been an incredible challenge," said
Mr. Hassett, "but it's also a chance for us to learn
and refine our system. We'll learn more as we go along
to improve our efforts."
The SAMHSA Web site continues to post alerts of the
Agency's activities before, during, and after disasters,
and to provide links to important Federal information
For more information about SAMHSA's disaster readiness
& response, visit the SAMHSA Web site at www.samhsa.gov.
Technical Assistance Center
For more information about SAMHSA DTAC, visit
SAMHSA's Web site at www.mentalhealth.samhsa.gov/dtac
or call 1 (800) 308-3515.
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