Disaster Preparedness, Response, and Recovery

SAMHSA provides communities and responders with behavioral health resources that help them prepare, respond, and recover from disasters.


Disasters can occur naturally (such as tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, wildfires, mudslides, or drought) or be human-caused (such as mass shootings, chemical spills, or terrorist attacks). Preparing for, responding to, and recovering from disasters and traumatic events is essential to the behavioral health (mental health and substance use) of individuals and communities alike.

When people experience a disaster, they may experience a variety of reactions, many of which are natural responses to difficult situations. Most people show resilience after a disaster. Resilience is the ability to bounce back, cope with adversity, and endure during difficult situations. Thankfully, resilience in disaster recovery is ordinary, not extraordinary, and people regularly demonstrate this ability. Using supportive resources to address stress and other hardships is a critical component of resilience. The SAMHSA Disaster Behavioral Health Information Series (DBHIS) special installment on resilience and stress management provides a collection of materials and tips that address resilience.

It is also common for people to show signs of stress after exposure to a disaster making it important to monitor the physical and emotional health of those affected as well as those responding to the needs of others. One resource available to assist in the management of stress is SAMHSA’s Disaster Distress Helpline – 1-800-985-5990. The Disaster Distress Helpline provides free, confidential crisis counseling and support 24/7 to people experiencing stress, anxiety, and other depression-like symptoms.

States and local governments are working to help their residents become more resilient in order to minimize post-disaster health consequences and promote recovery. SAMHSA’s Disaster Technical Assistance Center (DTAC) supports SAMHSA’s efforts to prepare states, territories, and tribes to deliver an effective behavioral health response to disasters. The SAMHSA Behavioral Health Disaster Response Mobile App is designed to assist those responding to disasters ensure that resources are at responders’ fingertips.

Although everyone reacts differently to disasters, some of those affected may suffer from serious mental or emotional distress. These individuals may develop or experience exacerbation of existing mental health or substance use problems, including for example, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Finding treatment in a timely fashion will help individuals minimize negative outcomes. SAMHSA provides a treatment locator and trains responders how to recognize and respond to symptoms of PTSD, depression, or severe reactions.

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Cultural Awareness and Competency

People’s reactions to disaster and stress, and their coping skills, can differ based on their beliefs, cultural traditions, or economic and social status. Behavioral health workers increasingly recognize the importance of cultural competence in developing, planning, and delivering effective disaster behavioral health services.

Learn more about applying cultural awareness to disaster behavioral health planning from the following:

SAMHSA provides Tips for Talking With and Helping Children and Youth Cope After a Disaster or Traumatic Event: A Guide for Parents, Caregivers, and Teachers – 2012 on helping children and youth after a disaster or traumatic event. SAMHSA also provides the guide in Spanish.

For more information, visit the Disaster Preparedness and Recovery publications page in the SAMHSA Store.

Last Updated: 09/20/2017