Faith-based Communities and Spiritual Leaders

This installment of the SAMHSA Disaster Behavioral Health Information Series (DBHIS) focuses on how spiritual leaders and faith-based communities can support behavioral health after disasters, and how faith-related support can be included in disaster behavioral health response.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s concept of the “whole community” includes faith-based communities as an influential component of disaster preparedness efforts.  Faith-based communities include places of worship, religious organizations, congregations, and the spiritual leaders who represent them. Many faith-based communities are interwoven with local communities and are some of the first to respond in disasters. In times of hardship, faith-based communities respond to survivors and assist in long-term recovery communities.

Faith-based communities provide informal and formal services related to disaster response.  Informally, faith-based communities rally around community members, offer moral uplift, and assist in fulfilling unmet needs. In other cases, faith-based organizations enter into mutual aid agreements with tribal, local, state, and federal partners in disaster response and recovery efforts.  Examples of mutual aid agreements include collecting donations, sheltering, and providing food services. The services carried out by faith-based organizations contribute to maintaining and strengthening behavioral health following disaster.

The resources listed below target religious leadership, faith-based communities, and those wishing to learn more about the role of faith-based communities in disasters. Topics covered include but are not limited to the following:

  • The role spiritual leaders and faith-based communities can play in helping with the behavioral health consequences of disasters
  • Self-care for religious leaders as they provide disaster behavioral health support
  • Ways to build resilience in faith-based communities through planning, preparedness, and mitigation
  • Engaging faith-based communities in emergency management
  • Faith-based services involved in disaster response

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Center for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives (CFBCI) - U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)
This page describes the CFBCI, which connects faith-based groups and other community groups with USAID partnership opportunities that advance global development issues.

Chaplain training manual - North American Mission Board, Southern Baptist Convention
This training manual explains disaster ministry and the role of a spiritual leader in a disaster or other crisis.

Children & disaster - National Disaster Interfaiths Network (NDIN)
This tip sheet discusses common reactions of children and youth to traumatic events, the importance of family in the recovery effort, recommendations for meeting the emotional needs of children and youth, and information on how to use support networks.

Compendium of faith-based organization (FBO) resources - International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM)
The document contains a lengthy list of faith-based organizations and resource links for faith-based organizations.

Disaster basics for faith communities - National Disaster Interfaiths Network (NDIN)
This tip sheet provides basic disaster mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery information for communities of faith.

Disaster tip sheets for NYC religious leaders: Self-care for religious leaders - New York Disaster Interfaith Services (NYDIS)
This tip sheet discusses the importance of self-care for religious leaders before, during, and after a disaster. It identifies barriers that keep many religious leaders from engaging in self-care and wellness activities, key elements to include in a self-care plan, and the signs of compassion fatigue and the need for professional mental health assistance.

Disaster tips sheets for faith community partners: Sheltering & mass care - National Disaster Interfaiths Network (NDIN)
Developed by NDIN and the University of Southern California Center for Religion and Civic Culture, this series offers religious literacy and competency guidelines for providers in mass care settings in the United States to assist staff and volunteers in meeting the needs of people of many different religions during disaster response or recovery operations. These guidelines can be applied in work with disaster survivors in a variety of settings.

Disaster tips sheets for U.S. religious leaders - National Disaster Interfaiths Network (NDIN)
The webpage provides 27 downloadable tip sheets on many topics relating to faith-based organizations and disasters.

Efforts: Disaster relief - Catholic Charities USA
Catholic Charities USA provides leadership and resources to help its member agencies respond to disasters in the United States; offers disaster case management services; and collaborates and coordinates with partners including the American Red Cross and National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) and with local, state, and national government agencies.

Episcopal Relief & Development's U.S. Disaster Response Program - Episcopal Relief and Development
Through this program, Episcopal Relief and Development supports leaders of Episcopal dioceses in responding to disasters. Support includes access to a database of disaster response volunteers and to a resource library, as well as connection to other diocesan leaders who have experience in disaster response and recovery.

Faith-based and community organizations pandemic influenza preparedness checklist - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
This checklist provides guidance for faith- and community-based organizations interested in developing and improving their pandemic influenza preparedness and response plans. The authors include steps for planning for the impact of a pandemic on residents and staff; communicating with staff, members, and residents; setting up policies (e.g., for sick leave and travel); allocating resources; and coordinating with external organizations to protect the community's health and safety. Also available in Spanish at

Faith-based & community organizations pandemic influenza preparedness checklist - U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (HHS, CDC)
This checklist begins with a brief explanation of the importance of faith-based and community organizations in supporting the health of the public in the event of an influenza pandemic. It then identifies steps for organizations to take in the areas of planning, communication, policy development, resource allocation, and collaboration with other organizations and agencies in pandemic response. Also available in Spanish at

Faith communities & disaster mental health - National Disaster Interfaiths Network (NDIN)
This tip sheet provides information for religious leaders about common stress reactions to a disaster and suggests ways they can cope, and help others cope, with these reactions. The tip sheet also provides information on referring people for mental health services.

Faith communities & the Disaster Distress Helpline - National Disaster Interfaiths Network (NDIN)
In this tip sheet, NDIN provides religious leaders with information on SAMHSA's Disaster Distress Helpline, which offers 24/7 crisis counseling throughout the year for individuals and families experiencing distress because of disasters. NDIN explains who answers the Disaster Distress Helpline, what happens when someone calls or texts the helpline, and what services are available, as well as when the helpline should be used as a referral.

Faithful action: Working with religious groups in disaster planning, response and recovery - Center for Religion and Civic Culture, University of Southern California
The report details the role of faith-based organizations in communities and as strategic emergency management partners. The report also outlines ways for public agencies to work with faith communities to engage in disaster preparedness and response. [Authors: Farrag, H., Loskota, B., & Flory, R.]

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Last Updated: 07/19/2017