A needs assessment is the foundation for a disaster response program, no matter the size or scope of the disaster. It is a continuous process necessary to ensure the relevance of the program for the duration of the effort.
An initial behavioral health needs assessment is conducted immediately after a disaster and the data will usually rely on input from the affected locality as to damage, casualties, injuries, and populations exposed. In a presidentially declared disaster, the needs assessment data may come from FEMA’s Preliminary Damage Assessment (PDA) in addition to the locality’s input. The needs assessment provides the rationale and justification for the disaster response program and identifies at-risk populations who will be targeted for outreach. A needs assessment also might rely on corroborative data, including anecdotal evidence from crisis counselors or feedback from other disaster relief providers. These sources may be especially important to inform adaptation of program outreach and services to meet changing needs in communities affected by disaster.
A needs assessment:
- Determines the need for crisis counseling, mental health and/or substance misuse treatment, public education, and information dissemination.
- Assesses risk factors and reactions in relation to:
- Level of exposure to the traumatic event
- Prior trauma or physical or behavioral health concerns
- Presence of severe reactions
- Current functioning
- Alcohol and drug use and misuse
- Identifies the at-risk groups.
- Is neutral and value free making an objective judgment about needs of each specific sector of the community, cultural group, or other at-risk populations post disaster.
- Emphasizes techniques that facilitate grouping and mobilizing people to work together.
- Fosters collective activities.
- Facilitates leadership development.
- Is an ongoing process and should be updated as needed throughout the response to the disaster.
- Identifies the community’s role in influencing and affecting the general well-being of the population.
- Involves residents in the entire process.
- Looks at quantitative data, including demographic records, official statistics, and the damage assessment report provided by the locality or in the case of a presidentially declared disaster, may include information from the FEMA Preliminary Damage Assessment as well as qualitative data from individual social indicators and contacts with the community. These often take the form of:
- Community surveys and group forums
- Key informant interviews
- Community impressions
- A behavioral census
- While some assessments use only one or the other type of data, a combined technique known as a convergent analysis can be used, and is likely to be more comprehensive of the larger picture.
- Informs the outreach strategy of the disaster response program (refer to Outreach Strategy section).