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
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
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
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
|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
"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
Conference participants identified a range of components that improve
mental health and substance abuse emergency preparedness efforts,
- Develop relationships ahead of time with state emergency management
- 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.
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