Disaster Distress Helpline – Five Tips for Disaster Preparedness
Hello my name is Christian Burgess and I’m Director of the national Disaster Distress Helpline which is a program of the U.S Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Administered by the parent company the not-for-profit Vibrant Emotional Health and you might be wondering why I’m wearing a mask. Well, it’s not just because of COVID-19 safety it’s also because I work from a home office in the Portland Oregon area and right now we’re experiencing rampant wildfires just as California, Washington and other areas in the West are the smoke is pretty bad where I live and so i’m actually experiencing a disaster right now. I live about 15 miles from an area that is in a level three “Go Now” evacuation order and so I’ve been thinking about preparedness and September is National Preparedness month and I wanted to offer a few tips that you and loved ones can use in order to feel calmer and more in control in times of disaster.
And the first step is to stay calm. This can be really hard to do in times of stress but think about what normally helps you to get through tough times and really draw on those resources and also, think about things that you can do in the moment of stress like taking deep breaths or stopping and doing some simple stretches. Because if you are able to stay as calm as possible in times of stress you’re able to think more clearly and make decisions and do what you need to do in order to keep you and loved ones safer.
The second tip is to follow emergency directions emergency responders and emergency management officials are working around the clock to keep you and loved ones safe and so it’s really important for you to follow any directives they may give pertaining to the particular disaster that’s impacting you so follow evacuation orders, or in some cases it might be a shelter in place. Um, they’re doing these things to keep you safe but also so that they don’t have to divert resources to emergency rescue um so that they can concentrate on fighting the disaster and containing the disaster event to the extent possible as well as helping people who may need extra assistance so follow emergency orders you can sign up for alerts that almost every local county area has these kind of alerts that you can sign up for to get texts or phone calls you can also check social media accounts of emergency management agencies to get consistent regularly updated information from trusted sources.
The third step is to take preparedness one step at a time it can be very overwhelming when a disaster is imminent to think about what you need to do this is why it’s important to practice preparedness year round so that you’re familiar with the steps that you need to take in time in a particular disaster as well as just get the resources that you need but just do things one step at a time and it helps to think about things ahead of time to think about the essential documents that you need um to assemble any valuables that you have that you want to put in one place for a quick grab to think about what you would put in a go bag such as medications or clothing or other essential items and of course in preparedness you also it’s important to think about pets anyone in the house who may have access and functional needs and other special resources like that you can go to a website called ready.gov which is a program of the federal emergency management agency to find all sorts of resources and preparedness for a variety of disaster types and a variety of particular needs and they also have resources available in multiple languages.
The fourth step is to rely on your support network that’s what they’re there for if you are feeling overwhelmed reach out to someone that you trust to talk about what’s on your mind um a friend, family member and also if you’re in a safe area if you’re not threatened then be someone support network, reach out to them check in on how they’re doing can go a long way in helping someone to not feel isolated and to to remember that they have people out there that are caring about them.
The fifth and final step is to reach out to services like the national Disaster Distress Helpline when you need support and you’re feeling overwhelmed or if the disaster event is triggering pre-existing mental health concerns including if you experienced disasters in the past and haven’t had a difficult recovery um if you have people in your home that you’re overly concerned about in the disaster that’s what we’re here for 24 7 you can call us one at 1-800-985-5990 and talk with a trained counselor about what’s on your mind to help you feel calmer and more in control in a disastrous situation you can visit us at disasterdistress.samhsa.gov that’s disasterdistress.samhsa.gov to learn more about our services including other options that you have to connect with counselors and I also encourage you to visit Vibrant’s Safe Space website vibrant.org/safespace because that site also has resources and coping tips that can help you during stressful times and the final thing I want to say is thank you to emergency responders, firefighters, emergency management officials, health care workers, volunteers in disaster preparedness response and recovery for all the work that you’re doing tirelessly around the clock 24 7 to keep people safe. The Disaster Distress Helpline and Vibrant thanks you and I personally thank you because of what I’m experiencing right now here in Oregon. So, thanks for your time remember to practice preparedness year-round and stay safe and stay well.