Disaster Responders

As anyone who has been a disaster responder knows, disasters are stressful. In the first days, weeks, or sometimes months after a disaster, many survivors show signs and symptoms of stress, such as fear, anxiety, sadness, shame, feeling numb, disorientation, difficulty concentrating, trouble sleeping, being "on edge," and problems at work and school. Some survivors experience more severe reactions, including severe anxiety or depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, and using more alcohol or other drugs.

These effects are not limited to disaster survivors; they also may occur in disaster responders. In fact, responders may be at risk for severe reactions from secondary traumatic stress as survivors share their experiences with them. Responders commonly serve in their own disaster-affected communities, and both severe exposure to a disaster and living in a community that has been disrupted or traumatized by a disaster are risk factors for severe disaster reactions.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take as a responder to help survivors cope with their reactions, support survivors in activating their positive coping strategies, and protect your own behavioral health. This installment of the SAMHSA Disaster Behavioral Health Information Series (DBHIS) includes resources you can use to respond effectively, restore survivor well-being, and care for yourself, so that you can continue to serve.

Intended for responders in a wide range of fields—police, firefighters, emergency medical services personnel, humanitarian aid workers, public officials, and emergency managers—resources address these topics:

  • Interventions such as Psychological First Aid that you can use to support disaster survivors
  • Screening tools to help you assess survivors for alcohol use disorder and other conditions
  • Supporting special populations, including children and youth and communities with cultures different from your own, as a disaster responder
  • Substance use issues and conditions in survivors and responders
  • Issues responders may experience as a result of their work, including compassion fatigue and secondary traumatic stress, as well as self-care and stress management as a responder

Use the menu bar on the left to narrow the results by disaster type, behavioral health issue or condition, topics in prevention and recovery, and more.

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Last Updated: 07/19/2017