skip navigation

Text Only

SAMHSA News - Volume XI, Number 3, Summer 2003

skip navigation

New York firefighter Chris Agazzi at a 9/11 remembrance ceremony at Ground Zero, September, 11, 2002Disaster Preparedness:
Conference Strengthens State Efforts

From June 18 to 20, approximately 250 mental health, substance abuse, public health, and emergency management professionals came to Washington, DC, to participate in SAMHSA's conference, "Creating a Road Map for Disaster Preparedness: Strengthening State Capacity for Disaster Mental Health and Substance Abuse Response."

Researchers, administrators, clinicians, and representatives from valuable partner organizations in 48 states and 8 U.S. territories exchanged ideas, networked, and received help to enhance their plans for disaster response.

In regards to preparedness, SAMHSA Administrator Charles G. Curie, M.A., A.C.S.W., set the tone by declaring, "The state is where the action is."

Participants devoted their attention to disaster preparedness and the challenges of all-hazards planning in small, inter-state group discussions. The consensus? Disaster planning must be ongoing, with special consideration given to establishing partnerships, designing communication strategies, and increasing resources. Indeed, at a time when agencies are consistently expected to do more with less, state and local contacts can be valuable sources of financing and technical assistance.

Participants also urged that volunteers be incorporated and credentialed to ensure that human resources remain plentiful. Representatives from the American Red Cross and the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster encouraged participants to go home and ask volunteer agencies and faith-based organizations to join them at the planning table.

Breakout sessions during the conference shed light on a range of targeted topics, such as substance abuse, cultural competence, fiscal mechanisms, interagency collaborations, maintaining communication systems in times of crisis, and planning for possible bioterrorist threats.

SAMHSA Emergency Coordinator Dr. Daniel Dodgen
SAMHSA Emergency Coordinator Dr. Daniel Dodgen discusses Federal resources with a participant at "Creating a Road Map for Disaster Preparedness: Strengthening State Capacity for Disaster Mental Health and Substance Abuse Response." (Photo by David Kasamatsu, for SAMHSA)

Substance abuse experts, in particular, emphasized the need for their field to become more involved in disaster planning-especially as research provides new information on issues involving alcohol and drug use after traumatic events.

SAMHSA's Center for Substance Abuse Treatment Director H. Westley Clark, M.D., J.D., M.P.H., said, "Following a disaster or attack, we have seen an increased demand for services from people currently in treatment and people with histories of substance-related disorders. Substance use disorder treatment programs need to be prepared to address this."

"These are our experts," announced Bonnie Selzler, Ph.D., the state liaison from SAMHSA's Disaster Technical Assistance Center, as she introduced representatives from the six jurisdictions affected most by the September 11 and anthrax attacks. Each presenter provided planning insights that could apply to any region. For instance, establishing an immediate presence at a disaster scene is important, even if your services aren't immediately needed. It's equally crucial to clarify inter-jurisdictional relationships and responsibilities ahead of time-particularly when a terrorist attack could easily span multiple regions or involve military and civilian populations.

Ruby Brown, Ph.D., Project Director of the Arlington County Community Resilience Project, described how easily confusion could have ensued after the Pentagon burst into flames following the September 11 terrorist attacks. Paramedics, firefighters, police, Red Cross workers, and criminal investigators were called to the scene and all knew their jurisdictional roles. They were able to work together to bring the scene under control as quickly as possible.

Field staff also recommended preparing for a response that could last more than 1 year and that would use informal outreach approaches to counter stigma attached to mental health and substance abuse treatment.

Conference participants identified a range of components that improve mental health and substance abuse emergency preparedness efforts, including:

  • Develop relationships ahead of time with state emergency management agencies.
  • Establish a cadre of qualified trainers.
  • Involve outside volunteers, including the faith community.
  • Forge interstate and other cross-jurisdictional collaborations.
  • Integrate/coordinate the efforts of mental health and substance abuse authorities.
  • Tap into existing state and local resources.
  • Tailor plans to specific ethnic and minority cultures and special populations.

SAMHSA is also sponsoring a series of regional summits to continue helping states with emergency preparedness planning. End of Article

« See Also—Previous Article

See Also—Next Article »

Back to Top

Inside This Issue

Disaster Preparedness: Mental Health & Substance Abuse
Related Content:  
  • Resources

    President's Commission Recommends Transforming Mental Health System
    Related Content:  
  • Goals in a Transformed Mental Health System

    Rise in Drug-Abuse-Related Narcotic Pain Medications Seen in Emergency Rooms
    Related Content:  
  • Emergency Department Mentions of Marijuana Among Patients Age 12 to 17 and Age 18 to 25
  • Emergency Department Mentions of Alcohol-in-Combination, Cocaine, Heroin, and Marijuana
    Minority Fellowship Program Extends Training, Expands Treatment

    Initiative Counters Stigma and Discrimination

    Publications Available on Financing of Mental Health Services

    Disaster Preparedness: Conference Strengthens State Efforts

    Disaster Preparedness: Manual Provides Guidance
    Related Content:  
  • Publications

    22 Million Americans Suffer from Substance Dependence or Abuse
    Related Content:  
  • Perceived Treatment Need and Efforts To Get Treatment Among Persons Who Needed But Did Not Receive Treatment for Illicit Drugs
  • Co-Occurrence of Serious Mental Illness and Substance Use Disorders Among Adults Age 18 or Older

    SAMHSA Offers Manual for Competitive Grant Applications
    Related Content:  
  • SAMHSA Awards New Grants

    SAMHSA News

    SAMHSA News - Volume XI, Number 3, Summer 2003