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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services


From lessons learned to planning tools: Find out how you can help communities cope with disasters

Author: Rachel E. Kaul, LCSW, CTS, Senior Policy Analyst and Behavioral Health Team Lead, HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response and Lauren Lowenstein, Social Work Intern, HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response
Published Date: 1/27/2017 1:46:00 PM
Category: Public Health Preparedness; Response & Recovery;

When a disaster strikes, it can be easy to see how the disaster damages buildings, bridges and parks. But the disaster’s impacts on behavioral health may not be so easy to see. Do you want a better understanding of ways that disasters affect behavioral health? Do you want to know how the federal government can help support behavioral health before, during, and after a disaster? Are you involved in emergency preparedness activities for a state, local, territorial, or tribal (SLTT) agency? Do you work for an organization that provides health services in emergencies?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then the new Disaster Behavioral Health Concept of Operations (DBH CONOP) is for you!

The DBH CONOP describes how HHS organizes itself to provide response and recovery behavioral health support to SLTT governments. The CONOP also provides a framework for understanding the patchwork of disaster behavioral health resources spread throughout the federal government, SLTT governments, and non-governmental organizations.

This update considered lessons learned from recent disasters, exercises, and evaluations. The DBH CONOP includes new information on responding to natural disasters, which have become both more frequent and more severe in recent years. It also incorporates lessons learned from and considerations for coordinating the disaster behavioral health response to mass-violence events like the response to the Umpqua Community College shooting in Roseburg, Oregon.

If you are an emergency preparedness planner at the federal or SLTT level, you may be wondering how the updated CONOP can help you do your job. The CONOP clarifies, outlines and describes the roles and responsibilities of different behavioral health actors so that you can better coordinate before, during and after a disaster.

For example, do you want to know who is responsible for providing behavioral health support for HHS responders, or how the National Disaster Medical System is activated? The answer to these and many other questions can be found in the DBH CONOP.

In addition, the CONOP contains descriptions of disaster behavioral health activities at the federal level that can be emulated by SLTT agencies. Reviewing the CONOP can help emergency planners consider the most effective ways to organize disaster behavioral health preparedness, response, and recovery efforts within their own systems.

The updated CONOP provides a wealth of information to officials actively engaged in emergency planning as well as those seeking to learn more about disaster behavioral health and its complexities. By taking the time to learn, plan and coordinate now, you can become better prepared to help your community when disaster strikes.


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