The staffing plan should identify those positions and the number of people needed in each category to adequately address the numbers of directly and indirectly affected persons as per the needs assessment, regardless of the size of the disaster.
The staffing plan should identify those positions and the number of people needed in each category to adequately address the numbers of directly and indirectly affected persons as per the needs assessment, regardless of the size of the disaster. Typical staff positions include:
- Disaster response program manager or director
- Team leader or supervisor
- Crisis counselor
- Administrative assistant or data entry clerk
- Consultant or trainer
- Evaluation or data coordinator
- Fiscal coordinator
While all positions are important to a disaster response program, proper supervision is critical. Effective supervision includes the following:
- Roles and responsibilities
- Adequate tools
- Individual time
- Group support
Roles and Responsibilities
Crisis counselors and outreach workers should be assigned a supervisor who will provide information on the roles and responsibilities of the staff as well as stress management monitoring and support.
It is also the responsibility of the supervisor to ensure that staff have the needed supplies and equipment. The basic “field kit” for a disaster response crisis counselor or outreach worker to take in the field at any time can include the following items:
- Clip boards
- Program materials
- ID badge and program branded vest/jacket
While each community in charge of the disaster response program determines its own ratio of supervisors to staff, it is recommended that the supervisors manage a small enough number so that they have sufficient time to respond to the needs of professionals as well as nonprofessionals. Supervisors should be able to conduct routine individual supervision sessions and ad hoc meetings as needed to monitor their staff for signs of stress and fatigue. Supervisors should also encourage staff members to eat and rest properly when performing disaster response work.
Supervision provided in a group format offers an appropriate and convenient modality by which to meet with staff and provide practical information, instruction, and stress management supports. These meetings provide opportunity to discuss crisis counseling needs or severe reactions in survivors and also allow for group cohesion and capacity building in certain circumstances. Group meetings may also be used to provide ongoing in-service or training opportunities on disaster response program-specific supplemental topics.
Operational and stress debriefings are highly recommended for all crisis counseling and outreach staff who are exposed to similar experiences in the response. Groups are an ideal and convenient way to conduct debriefings, and it is recommended that the stress debriefing groups are homogenous (meaning, again, that staff with similar exposure experiences are grouped separately from others with different exposure experiences) and that no staff are mandated to tell their personal experience or listen to others’ personal experiences if it is upsetting to them.
It is the responsibility of the team leader to brief the team on expectations, roles, and responsibilities. Operational debriefings are often conducted separately from stress debriefings and focus on the actual activities of the staff rather than the effect that these activities have had on the staff. Leadership may ask the staff to review their activities to determine if the staff conducted their work as assigned, got to assigned locations and, if not why not and was there appropriate and timely communications with the supervisor or section chief? Operational debriefings may include obtaining from each staff a report of the disaster site and the numbers of survivors there, the physical or other needs (e.g., low food supply, lack of room in the shelter) as these things may affect the crisis counseling activities.
Stress debriefings are often held at the end of the shift or end of the day if the staff are occupying a site facility together. These debriefings provide an opportunity for staff to discuss their concerns and reactions to the survivor populations and the work. The group format allows for staff to support each other and provide coping tips for managing the stress of the work together. The group leader (often the team leader) uses these opportunities to assess the emotional preparedness of the staff to go back into the field the next shift. It is also typical for stress debriefings to be held at the very end or shortly thereafter (24–72 hours) after a deployment. Team leaders usually conduct these meetings and provide a structure by which the staff can give and receive support from each other, review the post-deployment guidelines, and assess any staff suffering with serious distress as a result of the assignment providing referrals for followup services as needed.
Each agency should have a process for screening applicants and identifying what preferred qualities and type of credentials are necessary for each position. Additionally, programs may want to provide their own credentials such as a picture ID with the name of the staff member and the name, telephone number, and logo of the program to create legitimacy in the community.
Consideration should be made as to how the team will be deployed in the field. Team leaders need to assure staff safety and efficacy by deploying staff in teams of two minimally and that staff have working remote communications at all times. Some programs deploy a team leader with each team. Others deploy a leader who can move around in the field and has the clinical expertise to supervise as well as assess and triage, where necessary. However the program activities are designed to be delivered, crisis counselors and outreach workers need to be prepared to deploy into the field so they know what to expect. They can be assisted in this process with the pre-deployment and field deployment guidelines. Each agency may want to include some of their own procedures (e.g., sign-in or attendance forms, assignment review meetings, daily submission of log forms) as part of the pre- or daily-deployment process.
Examples From the Field
SAMHSA Disaster Technical Assistance Center. (n.d.). Deployment Supports for Disaster Behavioral Health Responders podcast (27 minutes).
The goal of this podcast is to prepare disaster behavioral health (DBH) responders and their family members for deployment by reviewing pre- and post-deployment guidelines and ways to prepare oneself and one's family members for the stress of deployment and reintegration into regular work and family life.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Occupational Safety and Health Administration. (2006). Leaving Home for Disaster Relief Work: A Pre-Deployment Resource for Supervisors (PDF | 128 KB). (HHS Publication No. NMH06-0234).
This tip sheet offers a list of mental health considerations that may assist a supervisor building a team for a disaster response work deployment.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2005). Returning Home After Disaster Relief Work: A Post-Deployment Guide for Emergency and Disaster Response Workers (PDF | 4.6 MB). (HHS Publication No. NMH05-0219).
This guide is intended to assist deployed employees when they are transitioning back into their regular work situations following deployment.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2014). Tips for Families of Returning Disaster Responders: Adjusting to Life at Home. (HHS Publication No. NMH05-0220).
This guide assists families in reuniting when a member returns from emergency or disaster response duties and offers advice on adjustment to home life, basic post-deployment needs, possible redeployment, signs of stress, and when to seek help.