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May 19
Maintaining good mental health while being a media consumer

Large scale or distressing events such as the train wreck in Pennsylvania, the massive earthquake in Nepal and the protests and episodes of civil unrest occurring in many of our nations’ cities are closely monitored by many people, young and old, on television or the radio or through social media. Some follow these events to find out if they or someone they may know is directly impacted. Others are just trying to get a better understanding of things that seem far away or worrisome. People who watch or listen to too much news coverage or frequently monitor social media of traumatic events, no matter what reasons they are viewing the coverage, can experience increased stress symptoms and emotional distress. Some populations, such as children and the elderly, are even more vulnerable to these kinds of negative emotions if limits are not placed on seeing upsetting images and hearing graphic stories.

Viewing media coverage of traumatic events is especially distressing for children and young children. For very young children, repeated images of an event on the television may be interpreted as the event happening again and again. Young children may not have the cognitive or verbal skills to either understand all that is being seen and heard or to ask the questions to help them make sense of what is truly happening. Listening to the news in the background, and unsupervised, can be just as stressful for children and should be minimized.

Evidence also suggests that adults with pre-existing mental health conditions or prior trauma histories may be more vulnerable to the stressful effects of viewing coverage of emergency events or disasters.

So what can you do to minimize the potentially negative impacts of media coverage while you try and stay informed about what is happening around the world and in your neighborhood? Try and pay attention to the following:

Children and young children:

  • Limit or refrain from letting children, especially young children, watch coverage of traumatic events.
  • If children do watch television, listen to the radio, read the newspaper, or view social media coverage of the event, be sure to watch/listen with them and to discuss what is being seen and heard and be open to answering questions.
  • Misunderstandings frequently emerge for young children and being available for them to correct information and provide support can go a long way to helping them feel safe and cared for.
  • If you do not know the answer, that is ok and you should tell your child that. If you feel you can get the answer, let your child know and then make sure to follow up.
  • Give children a hug and let them know they are safe and that there are people in charge who are working to resolve the situation and who are helping people who were directly impacted by the event.
  • To learn more about how children react to traumatic events at different ages, see SAMHSA’s Tips for Talking with Children and Helping Children and Youth Cope after a Disaster or Traumatic Event.


  • Put some limits on your own media consumption. Pay attention to your feelings and thoughts and end your viewing or reading when you recognize that you have met your limit. Try not to watch televised coverage right before going to bed, as distressing images could disrupt your sleep or dreams.
  • Talk with someone about how you are feeling. If you have seen graphic images or disturbing photos and video and are upset, or if learning about an event has brought up feelings about your own trauma history, reach out to a friend, family member or a mental health professional.
  • Contact the National Disaster Distress Helpline and share information with friends and family as a resource. (1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746.)
  • Utilize healthy coping strategies to manage the distress such as talking with someone, getting plenty of exercise and sleep and eating healthy foods.

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May 18
Thoughts for New EMTs

Emergency Medical Services Week is a great time for us to step back and celebrate the EMS providers who risk their own lives and health to protect the well-being of others.

Kevin Horahan, a paramedic and Senior Policy Analyst with the HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, shares his thoughts on the ways that EMS professionals serve during disasters and everyday, including ways that they can better help people in chaotic situations when every second counts.

Thumbnail leading to video of Kevin Horahan, Senior Policy Analyst, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response

May 12
Study Shows it Pays to be Prepared

Governments, hospitals and other members of the public health community often wrestle with how to demonstrate the value of preparing for disasters. ASPR’s recent collaboration with a regional coalition in southeastern Pennsylvania provided a unique opportunity to measure the costs and benefits, and it resulted in one of the first economic evaluations applied to preparedness.

And, as it turns out, it truly does pay to be prepared.

Public and private public health organizations created the Surge Medical Assistance Response Team, or SMART, to address local disasters in southeast Pennsylvania. SMART is a multidisciplinary, collaborative effort that includes a wide variety of volunteers who augment surge capacity at hospitals and alternate care sites.

Working closely with SMART, we were able to evaluate both the cost of the resources they had available and the cost of responding to their local disasters in recent years. This regional response team produced positive returns on the region’s investment after only six years. The break-even point for each community would vary depending upon a number of factors.

We also studied innovative ways that regional emergency response teams could be funded. Some regional disaster response organizations across the country have relied on membership models to make up for decreases in public funding. We applied that model to SMART, and found that their model still worked. In their model, a 10 percent decline in public funding could be offset if each participating hospital paid $410 and each long-term care facility paid $148 in annual membership fees. Even if there was no public funding, hospitals would only pay $4,096 and long-term care facilities would pay $1,484 each year in membership fees. Through this membership structure, all of the entities that rely upon the regional response team for support would share a portion of its cost.

We concluded that not only can public health entities support regional response teams through membership fees, but also the model could attract private funding because of positive financial return on investment.

We outline several financial models that could be used and ways of measuring the value of preparedness in a paper published in Disaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness.

We don’t know when or where disaster will strike, and that makes it difficult to precisely measure the value of preparedness before disasters. However, the unique opportunity we recently had to evaluate the economics of a specific regional response program and the costs associated with its responses to recent disasters demonstrates that its value can be ascertained. Most importantly, what we learned is that preparedness pays off pretty quickly.

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May 08
Protecting Your Business from the Impacts of a Disaster

With natural disasters, epidemics, severe weather and other emergencies becoming more common and costly, the importance of emergency preparedness for businesses has never been greater. And that’s where national health security comes into play. National health security creates healthy and safe conditions to live, work, and play in before, during, and after emergencies.

By considering national health security as a way of life for small business owners, businesses can become more resilient to disasters, protect workers’ health and safety, decrease the time it takes to recover, and support community infrastructure to provide resources such as food and clean water to those in need.

Nearly 40 to 60 percent of small businesses Exit Icon never reopen their doors following a disaster. Being prepared for a disaster can protect not only the business itself but also the health and wellbeing of its employees, their families, and its community.

National Small Business Week, May 4-8, is a great reminder for small business owners and their employees to make sure they have an emergency plan. This plan can help ensure that employers and employees know where to go and how to protect themselves from hazards that can result in occupational injury and illness – ranging from basic safety training to the use of personal protective equipment.

Small businesses can help maintain the personal health of workers with emergency plans that include establishing employee assistance programs to deal with behavioral and social health impacts of a disaster. As a whole, health protection and promotion are essential to a resilient workforce and workplace that can withstand, adapt to, and recover quickly from a disaster.

Here are some suggestions on what your emergency plan could address:

  • Resource management- Resources essential to emergency response should be identified
  • Emergency response- Plans to protect people and property should be developed
  • Crisis communication- A plan should be created to establish communication with employees and customers
  • Business continuity- A continuity plan that includes recovery strategies to overcome the disruption of business
  • Information technology- A plan to recover computer hardware and electronic data
  • Employee assistance- Encourage employees and their families to have personal preparedness plans and provide opportunities for medical, behavioral, and social support
  • Incident management- A system is needed to define responsibilities and coordinate activities before, during and following an incident
  • Training- People with defined roles in an emergency situation should be trained before a disaster strikes

With disasters on the rise, the time for small business owners to ensure their business is prepared and adequately protected is now. To learn more about building an emergency plan for businesses, visit or

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May 06
From Healthcare Clinics to Ebola Treatment Centers: Nurses Protect Health & Provide Comfort

During any ordinary day, nurses triage and treat patients, navigate medical bureaucracy and help explain complicated medical issues in terms patients can understand. They manage any number of crises, often simultaneously. Often these incredibly busy people are the ones providing comfort, too. They listen to patients and families who are scared, worried, in pain, or sometimes just grumpy. They touch people’s lives.

Left to right: LCDR Christopher Perdue, MD, LT Jesus “Chuy” Reyna, RN and CAPT Angel “R2”Rivasrivera RN before going into the high risk area.

When a disaster strikes, nurses work even harder to treat patients. Their care, creativity and dedication to service helps save lives when every second counts. They manage chaos and make decisions that keep their patients and their coworkers healthy, safe and alive.

When the Ebola epidemic struck in West Africa, nurses served as a vital part of the health response by providing desperately needed care in some of the most austere conditions imaginable. While Liberia is close to being declared Ebola free, many medical professionals from around the globe continue to work together in West Africa to save lives. Nurses, including nurses from our U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, have been critical in this global response.

One of the nurses involved early in this response was Captain Angel Rivasrivera. He served as part of HHS Ebola Mission to establish a 25-bed medical facility in Monrovia, Liberia, that was used to treat other healthcare workers with suspected, probable or confirmed cases of Ebola. This was the first time that a United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps medical unit had deployed in Monrovia, and they needed processes specific to that operating environment to help keep healthcare personnel safe as they care for patients. For example, what do you do when providing care to highly infectious patients and there is a power outage? Thanks to procedures Captain Rivasrivera’s team helped put in place ahead of time, there was a backup solution ready to go when that happened. As the night charge nurse, he helped train and mentor a multidisciplinary group of officers to work safely in a very unique setting.

He and so many other Public Health Service nurses like him provided the expert care that helped many healthcare workers survive. With the protective actions they put in place, none of the Commissioned Corps officers contracted Ebola. Like other nurses serving in this response, Captain Rivasrivera talked with patients enduring the most terrifying situation of their lives and stayed with a patient in the final moments of life.

Nurses like Captain Rivasrivera make a difference every single day. We hope you’ll join us during National Nurses Week in thanking our Public Health Service nurses and other nurses you know for their incredibly hard work and dedication in disasters and every day.


April 27
Importance of Cultural and Linguistic Competency in Disaster Preparedness and Response

This year’s National Minority Health Month provides a unique opportunity to reflect on our work in raising awareness and addressing the health care disparities that continue to affect racial and ethnic minorities. While significant progress has been made towards advancing health equity in the last 30 years, as a nation, we still have a long way to go.

Research continuously demonstrates that minority populations are disproportionately impacted by disasters. Language barriers and cultural differences within communities make information sharing and access to resources more challenging. This can lead to decreased levels of preparedness, increased challenges during an emergency response, and slower recovery in minority communities.

Since disasters and public health emergencies can impact anyone and anywhere, emergency managers and public health officials must be prepared to provide access to public health and medical services to all affected individuals and communities. An inclusive and integrated approach to disaster preparedness, response, and recovery activities will help us meet our nation’s needs as the racial and ethnic diversity in the United States continues to grow. This approach should ensure that the culturally and linguistically diverse populations are not overlooked or misunderstood and receive appropriate services as needed.

The Office of the Assistant Secretary for Disaster Preparedness and Response (ASPR) recognizes the importance of an inclusive and integrated approach across all disaster-related activities. As such, we are pleased to announce the release of a new fact sheet and webpage on cultural and linguistic competency in disaster preparedness and crisis response. Developed in consultation with the Office of Minority Health and utilizing the National Standards for Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services in Health and Health Care (CLAS Standards), these resources detail the importance of developing cultural and linguistic competency for emergency managers and public health officials to better meet the needs of diverse populations and to improve the quality of services and health outcomes during and after a disaster. Emergency managers and public health officials who are prepared to address the cultural needs of communities affected by adverse events can be instrumental in reducing people’s psychological distress, meeting the community’s needs to recovery effectively, and improving the overall health and community resilience of the nation.

As we come together to celebrate National Minority Health Month, take some time to focus on developing the knowledge, attitudes, and skills needed to improve cultural and linguistic competency in your community. It can help all of our communities become stronger and more resilient in the face of disasters and other health challenges that our communities face.

April 23
ASPR Team Developing Economic Evaluation Tool for Public Health Emergencies

Officials at the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) are not only looking for ways to best protect Americans’ health during times of crisis, they’re also looking for ways to do more with less.

Ensuring good stewardship of taxpayer money can prove challenging when no guide exists that helps decision makers identify the most cost-effective medical countermeasures — drugs, vaccines and medical devices — to prepare for disasters. So an innovative team within ASPR’s Division of Medical Countermeasures Strategy and Requirements (MCSR) is setting out to create a guidebook that accounts for risk in cost-effectiveness analysis.

By developing a standard methodology to determine the cost-effectiveness of various medical interventions, the team believes ASPR will be able to maximize the value of the resources maintained within the Strategic National Stockpile.

Their idea has attracted the attention of and, perhaps more importantly, support from HHS. The HHS IDEA Lab awarded the MCSR team $111,500 earlier this week to take their idea to the next level.

With funding to further develop their idea, the team is performing a case study into the potential economic value of innovative thermal burn therapies that have applications for other patients.

The team also will work on developing methods for economic evaluations to help identify higher return-on-investment projects and acquisitions. If the idea realizes its promise, the tool could eventually be used by state public health professionals and state and local emergency management planners.

I am pleased to be serving as the Designated Project Lead. We are excited for this opportunity and look forward to starting this project to better enhance national emergency preparedness, provide significant return on investment, and enable program managers to be more effective stewards of taxpayer monies.

Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response Dr. Nicole Lurie will be the project’s Executive Sponsor, and the thought leads for the team will be Dr. Scott Nystrom, Dr. David Howell, and Stuart Evenhaugen.

The Secretary of Health and Human Services created the IDEA Lab in 2013 to improve how the Department delivers on its mission by engaging HHS leadership at the highest levels to support the testing of new ideas and equipping HHS employees who have an idea and want to test it with new business practices, mentoring and innovation programs.


April 10
Student Health Volunteers:  Building Community Health during Disasters and Every Day

Preparing for the next emergency starts long before a disaster strikes and student health volunteers can play an important role in helping communities prepare, respond and recover.  When students make the choice to volunteer, they are giving an important gift to their communities and while opening the door to so many opportunities, such as developing valuable professional skills, learning things about the field that aren’t in their textbooks, and meeting new friends or future colleagues.

When it comes to health preparedness students have a lot of opportunities.  For example, they can staff vaccination clinics, donate blood, help with public education campaigns, and more.  By volunteering before a disaster strikes, you are better equipped to help your service organization and your community if there is an emergency in your area.

As a college student, it is often hard to find time to volunteer and balance classes, but I find that it is worth making the time to serve my community. Once a week I volunteer at Prince George’s County Hospital and donate my time to help in a busy healthcare setting. Every day I help doctors and nurses treat their patients in the emergency room. Sometimes that means answering patient questions, raising their concerns to their healthcare providers or just listening to the problems that they are having. Because I have been volunteering at hospitals for years, I decided to get CPR certified. After my CPR certification I then became a Certified Nursing Assistant. 

My experience as a health volunteer has taught me about how to communicate with patients effectively and juggle multiple tasks efficiently.  I have learned about the different healthcare roles in the hospital and have seen firsthand the impact providers have on a patient’s life. This has given me a well-rounded perspective on the healthcare field. Also, it has inspired me to one day become a doctor that provides the excellent care that I have witnessed as a health volunteer.

This week is National Volunteer Week and I encourage you to take some time to consider how you can volunteer in your community.  If you are not sure how to get started or want to learn more about volunteering, join our upcoming twitter chat on student health volunteers on April 21st from 1-2pm ET.  

Topics will include:

  • Why volunteering matters to students and how it helps you and your community
  • When is the best time to make the choice to volunteer and how volunteering before a disaster strikes makes your community more healthy when disaster strikes
  • What are some common barriers to volunteering and how to overcome them
  • What is unique about student volunteers and what special skills they bring to preparedness, response and recovery programs
  • Where young people can learn more about volunteering

Come join the chat by using the hashtag #NHSSchat and share your opinions on the importance of student health volunteers! To learn more about the Twitter chat, visit


April 02
HHS Progress in Meeting the Needs of Children during and after Disasters

Children make up approximately 25 percent1 of the United States (US) population, but when disaster strikes, they more vulnerable – physically and psychologically – than many other groups. By changing the way we respond to disasters, however, we can work towards ensuring that children receive the help they need during and after an incident. This includes informing and empowering parents and caregivers on how to make better choices that impact their children’s health and implementing strategies that better address the needs of at-risk children and their families such as supporting breastfeeding and filling gaps in child care.

Through the Children’s HHS Interagency Leadership on Disasters (CHILD) Working Group, HHS is working to translate these ideas into common practice.

The goal of the CHILD Working Group, an interagency working group co-led by the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) and the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), is to improve the way we integrate children’s needs across disaster preparedness, response, and recovery activities. As part of these efforts, the CHILD Working Group is excited to announce the publication of the 2012-2013 Report of the Children’s HHS Interagency Leadership on Disasters (CHILD) Working Group: Update on Departmental Activities and Areas for Future Consideration. This report describes the significant progress HHS has made to meet the needs of children in disasters and highlights three new program areas: pregnant and breastfeeding women and newborns; children at heightened risk; and interdepartmental and non-governmental organization (NGO) collaboration. For each focus area, the report provides background information, lists programs and activities underway, and discusses areas for future consideration.

Highlights of HHS progress in these areas include:

  • Better Communication: During a disaster, it can be hard for people to know what services are available to them and their children. HHS is using of prenatal care records and mobile phone messaging to support women’s disaster preparedness, resilience, and access to services.
  • Providing Critical Services for At-Risk Families: Families who are stressed before a disaster strikes are more likely to have a hard time effectively coping with the impacts of the disaster. HHS has collaborated with state partners in the formation of Children and Youth Task Forces in Disasters to support at-risk children and families and restore critical services including child care, Head Start, behavioral health, and financial assistance.
  • Working to Restore Child Care: HHS continually partners with NGOs to address disaster-caused gaps in child care after disasters.

We don’t know when the next disaster will strike, but we do know that supporting the unique needs of children is critical to successful disaster preparedness, response, and recovery. This report and future versions demonstrate HHS’s commitment to tracking and demonstrating the significant progress made towards improving our nation’s ability to respond to children’s needs in disasters. The CHILD Working Group will continue to meet on a regular basis to ensure integration and coordination of children’s needs across HHS and to provide updates on key initiatives so it remains a high priority for HHS leadership.

1Population by Age and Sex: 2010.

March 27
Red Cross provides comfort and care in disasters – and you can too

Red Cross prepares every day so that they can – and do – provide comfort, help keep people healthy, and save lives when disaster strikes. Over the course of a year, Red Cross responds to about 70,000 disasters, gets blood donations from nearly 4 million people, and trains over 9 million people health and safety courses, such as CPR and first aid. Red Cross’s healing presence is felt throughout disasters - from the bystander who knows enough to apply pressure to the wound to the doctor who has the blood needed to treat an injured patient to the family who gets the shelter and maybe even the counseling they need to get through a tough time.

In recognition of all that Red Cross does during disasters and every day, March is Red Cross Month. As we reflect on American Red Cross Month, we thank those who serve as part of the organization that has helped so many people throughout the country and around the world during large-scale disasters and every day emergencies.

Everybody can become a part of something that helps people when they need it most. As we think about what Red Cross has done for others, we can also think about the role we’ve played in our communities. What have we done recently? Have we donated our efforts to a worthy cause? Helped a neighbor in need? Donated blood? If the answer is no, we can use this time to change some of those answers.

We are all a part of a larger community, whether that is our neighborhood, religious group, school, or workplace. What we bring to the table impacts the people in our communities. By becoming a positive example we can help those around us to become a stronger, both individually and as a community.

What can you do to help others this month? Each act of kindness is infectious. When one person commits to sharing their time and talents, the whole community benefits.

You can commit to helping out in small ways that can make a big difference. For example, donating blood doesn’t take very long and it saves lives. Committing to be a better bystander – the kind that knows how to help when people need it – is pretty simple. For example, you could start by taking a first aid and CPR class so that you can provide care when every second counts.

Or you can serve your community on an ongoing basis by volunteering. Consider volunteering with your local Medical Reserve Corporation (MRC). MRC volunteers can assist with activities to improve public health in their community by increasing health literacy, supporting prevention efforts and reducing health disparities.

Joining your local Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) is another great way to strengthen community ties. CERT members are educated in disaster preparedness and are trained in basic disaster response skills, such as fire safety, light search and rescue, team organization, and disaster medical operations. These valuable skills can then be used to assist your community before a professional responder can reach an emergency.

Healthier, more resilient communities contribute to our overall national health security and we can support community health in many ways, including the ones outlined above. Earlier this year, ASPR released the National Health Security Strategy 2015-2018 to help create more prepared, protected and resilient communities. That is a very big – very important – goal and volunteering to serve our communities is one way that we can work together to help make it a reality.

Before American Red Cross month concludes, take a few minutes to consider ways that you can serve. When we take the time to serve our communities and commit to making them stronger and more resilient, we can see the benefits during disasters and every day.

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