Whole-Community Disaster Behavioral Health

Whole-Community Disaster Behavioral Health

Disasters affect all community members, regardless of cultural background or experiences. Successful disaster response, however, is rarely a one-size-fits-all approach. Behavioral health or response services that do not address cultural differences or individual needs create disproportionate groundwork for healing and resilience, causing many communities to be underserved and vulnerable. Equitable disaster behavioral health services and response are vital to collective healing during and after a disaster event. This inclusive approach relies on service providers’ dedication to cultural awareness and competency strategies tailored to the needs and preferences of the communities they serve.

The following resources highlight the importance of cultural awareness and competence in disaster response. Created for those providing disaster behavioral health services, these resources explore best practices and guidance to ensure support for all community members.


Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Disaster Planning and Response

Created for disaster planners and others providing services in response to a disaster, this web page from the SAMHSA Disaster Technical Assistance Center (DTAC) highlights the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). It explores internal and external DEI best practices for disaster planning organizations and highlights relevant resources that can be used to understand inequities experienced by some during disaster response and recovery and identify strategies to address these issues.


Cultural and Linguistic Competency in Disaster Preparedness and Response Fact Sheet

This fact sheet from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response—formerly the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response—highlights the importance of culturally competent services in disaster preparedness and response. It explores the five elements of cultural competency outlined by the National Standards for Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services in Health and Health Care (CLAS Standards) and explains the importance of providing inclusive and integrated disaster services and resources.


Cultural Competency Program for Disaster Preparedness and Crisis Response

Developed for first responders and emergency medical personnel, this free set of courses provides guidance for administering culturally competent services for vulnerable and marginalized communities after a disaster. Composed of four courses accredited for up to nine continuing education credits, the curriculum provides users with tools to develop their cultural knowledge, gain awareness of challenges, and adopt best practices for cultural and linguistic competency. Users will need to create an account to complete the set of courses.


Guide to Cultural Awareness for Disaster Response Volunteers (PDF | 285 KB)

This guide from the American Psychological Association provides tips and strategies for volunteers providing disaster response services to individuals and communities with different cultural experiences. It includes tips for communicating such as observing nonverbal behaviors, exchanging stories, and respecting language preferences.


CAPT Erik Hierholzer
[email protected]

Nikki D. Bellamy, Ph.D.
[email protected]


Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration 

5600 Fishers Lane Rockville, MD 20857 USA

1-877-SAMHSA-7 (1-877-726-4727) | www.samhsa.gov

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