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Disaster behavioral health capacity: Findings from a multistate preparedness assessment

Megan Peck, MPH, Tai Mendenhall, PhD, Louise Stenberg, MPH, Nancy Carlson, BS, Debra K. Olson, DNP


Purpose: To identify gaps in disaster behavioral health, the Preparedness and Emergency Response Learning Center (PERL) at the University of Minnesota's School of Public Health supported the development and implementation of a multistate disaster behavioral health preparedness assessment. Information was gathered regarding worker knowledge of current disaster behavioral health capacity at the state and local level, and perceived disaster behavioral health training needs and preferences.

Methods: Between May and July 2015, 143 participants completed a 31-item uniform questionnaire over the telephone by a trained interviewer. Trained interviewers were given uniform instructions on administering the questionnaire. Participants included county- and city-level public health leaders and directors from Minnesota, Wisconsin, and North Dakota.

Findings: Findings demonstrate that across the three states there is a need for improved disaster behavioral health training and response plans for before, during, and after public health emergencies. This study identified perceived gaps in plans and procedures for meeting the disaster behavioral health needs of different at-risk populations, including children, youth, and those with mental illness. There was consistent agreement among participants about the lack of behavioral health coordination between agencies during emergency events.

Value: Findings can be used to inform policy and the development of trainings for those involved in disaster behavioral health. Effectively attending to interagency coordination and mutual aid agreements, planning for effective response and care for vulnerable populations, and targeted training will contribute to a more successful public health response to emergency events.


disaster behavioral health, disasters, aftercare, emergency response, public health preparedness

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