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September 16, 2005

What Voluteers Need to Know: A Disaster Pre-Deployment Checklist

Those who have chosen careers in the helping professions often do so because of an innate desire to assist others in times of need. Hurricane Katrina has stimulated in many the desire to “head south” to be of assistance at the time of our nations greatest natural disaster of modern times.

Before one does, indeed, “head south” via some deployment mechanism or organization (as we know, “self-deployment” should not be done), a review of a simple “pre-deployment” checklist may be of use. While not all items may be relevant to you, it remains a useful exercise to consider many of the things we take for granted when we feel the visceral need to respond.

  1. Review recent news accounts of the status of the area to which you will be deployed. Watch current TV coverage of the disaster scenes to set appropriate expectations for what you will encounter at the disaster site.
  2. Under whose authority will you be deployed?
  3. How long will the deployment last?
  4. Where, when, and to whom should you report?
  5. What are the transportation arrangements (to and from)?
  6. What will be the reporting structure in the field?
  7. What will be appropriate clothing?
  8. Where will you be housed and under what conditions?
  9. How will you communicate with your family or significant others?
  10. What are other potential risks to your well-being?
    a. Disease
    b. Further disaster risk
    c. Violence/ assaults/ robbery
    d. Stress/ vicarious  trauma exposure (that which is experienced second hand as a result of talking directly to victims or witnessing the site and rescue and recovery efforts)
  11. What specific functions will you be performing? Have you had the appropriate training or will there be someone there who can provide that training? Don’t assume that everything you need will be there. Facilities may have been set up by someone who doesn’t do what you do or know what you need. Make a list of every specific piece of equipment and type ofl supply you need and ask about whether it will be there or not.
  12. For Medical and Nursing personnel:
    a. What will the demand be?
    b. What field and referral resources are available?
  13. For Mental Health personnel:
    a. What will the demand be?
    b. What field and referral resources are available for those who are suicidal, homicidal, psychotic, or cognitively impaired?
  14. How will you be covered for malpractice? For medical personnel, will you have adequate tail coverage?
  15. Who will be responsible for your treatment if you are injured while deployed? Will you be eligible for disability/workers’ compensation if injured while deployed?

George S. Everly, Jr., PhD, and Cindy Parker, MD, MPH
Johns Hopkins Center for Public Health Preparedness

Hurricane Katrina Information Page