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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

First Responders

As the people on the front lines of health, first responders play a vital role in preparing for, responding to, and recovering from disasters. Whether it is a major natural disaster, like Hurricane Maria, or a small local event, EMS personnel, firefighters and other first responders are often first on the scene and they are a critical part of getting the people the care they need when disaster strikes.


Learn to Support Law Enforcement

  • CONTOMS: Counter Narcotics and Terrorism Operational Medical Support: Law enforcement officers work in the line of fire, and medical professionals need specialized training to provide emergency care when bullets are still flying. CONTOMS provides nationally recognized training that helps EMTs, paramedics, and physicians save lives on the scene so that law enforcement officers can live to serve another day.

Preparing Yourself and Your Family

  • Promote Responder Health and Safety: Disasters pose obvious risks to responder health and safety, but there are some key things that you can do to protect yourself and your colleagues when you respond, like avoiding fatigue and making sure that you use personal protective equipment effectively. Check out this collection of resources from ASPR TRACIE to find out what you need to know to promote health in a disaster.

  • Become More Resilient: When first responders have the tools and support that they need to take care of themselves and manage stress, the team as a whole is more effective. Find out what you can do before, during, and after a deployment to increase your resilience.

  • Get Vaccinated: Vaccination is an important step every first responder should take to get ready to respond. Vaccine-preventable diseases like tetanus are more common in the wake of disasters. Stay up to date on your immunizations so that you are more protected when a disaster strikes.

Support Disaster Behavioral Health

  • Get Trained In Psychological First Aid: Exit Icon When a disaster strikes, first responders are called on to help people who are anxious, stressed, or having a hard time coping. Learn how you can help people using Psychological First Aid. The course is free, but the skills you learn could be priceless.

  • SAMHSA Disaster Behavioral Health App: Help survivors deal with fear, loss, and uncertainty in the wake of a disaster. Put behavioral health resources at your fingertips with the SAMHSA Disaster Behavioral Health App.

  • Select Disaster Behavioral Health Resources: Every disaster can cause worry, stress, and behavioral health issues. Learn about disaster behavioral health now so you are ready to provide compassionate care when disaster strikes.

Technical Resources for an All-Hazards Response

  • Disaster Apps for Your Digital Go Bag: Exit Icon These userful apps for disaster and emergency purposes are designed to provide first responders access to Web-based content. Check out the apps for CBRN and hazardous substances, medical and health information, responder support and safety, psychological health, family reunification, and more. They are developed to run on specific mobile platforms, such as iOS (iPhone and iPad), Android, or Blackberry.

  • Disaster Response for Pre-Hospital Medical Services: Pre-hospital services provide critical patient care every day, but their skills and services are especially important when disaster strikes. Learn how traditional and evolving pre-hospital services can help protect health and save lives when disaster strikes.

  • SOFA Score and Triage: The Sequential Organ Failure Assessment (SOFA) score is a scoring system that assesses the performance of several organ systems in the body and assigns a score based on the data obtained in each category. The higher the SOFA score, the higher the likely mortality. Of the scoring systems available, SOFA achieves a good balance between easily available data and good prediction. Learn more about the advantages and limitations of the system before a disaster strikes.

  • HIPAA and Disasters: What Emergency Professionals Need to Know: When a disaster strikes, there are frequent, rapid requests for information about illness and injury. Learn what patient information can be released, to whom, and under what circumstances before a disaster strikes.

  • EMTALA and Disasters: This fact sheet addresses several frequently asked questions regarding the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA) and disasters, and provides links to resources for more information.

  • On-Scene Mass Casualty Triage and Trauma Care: This Topic Collection can help hospital emergency planners, EMS personnel, and emergency medicine clinicians understand the basics of field triage and immediate stabilization of MCI victims. Lessons learned from recent incidents are included.

  • Mass Gatherings/Special Events: The resources in this Topic Collection include lessons learned, case studies, research, tools, and templates designed to help emergency medical staff create robust plans for mass critical care before an incident strikes their jurisdiction.

Responding to Chemical Emergencies

  • Chemical Hazards Topic Collection: The resources in this Topic Collection are specific to chemical agent patient evaluation and treatment and can help emergency responders and healthcare workers identify chemical hazards and prepare for, respond to, and treat survivors of related incidents.

  • Decontamination for Chemical Incidents: Did you know that 99% of chemical contamination can be removed by carefully removing clothes and wiping skin with a paper towel or dry wipe, according to new scientific studies of decontamination methods? Check out the Primary Response Incident Scene Management (PRISM) study to learn more about safe and effective decontamination methods. To learn about other issues in victim decontamination, check out the resource collection from ASPR TRACIE.

  • WISER: Wireless Information System for Emergency Responders: You cannot respond effectively to a hazardous materials incident if you do not know what the substance is. Emergency responders can use WISER to help identify hazardous substances based on their properties or patient symptoms. Check out WISER to learn how it can help keep your patients and responders safe in a chemical emergency.

Responding to Ebola and Other Infectious Disease Outbreaks

  • Select Infectious Disease Resources: This webpage of resources addresses current and emerging infectious disease threats. While many resources are relevant to planning for and responding to infectious disease emergencies, this page features those created specifically for that purpose.

Serve Your Community

  • Medical Reserve Corps: Medical Reserve Corps volunteers do amazing work during disasters and every day. Find out how you can use your skills to help your community. The Medical Reserve Corps has a wide range of opportunities to serve your community. Even if you are not a health professional, there are many ways you can help.

  • This page last reviewed: August 17, 2018