Why Disaster Plans Must Include Those with Mental Illness

Written by Annette Hammons

When you build your crisis communication and disaster response plan, include special accommodations for your most vulnerable citizens.

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When disaster strikes, community leaders are immediately in a situation to react, mobilize, and decisively move to serve the community’s most urgent needs when the stakes could not be higher. Easing the distress brought on by a disaster is a tough but necessary task that demands comprehensive and inclusive leadership. So often, disaster response plans are created through a process where every detail is meticulously evaluated and outlined with the hope of never having to be put into action. However, sometimes in this planning, our most vulnerable communities’ unique and complex needs can be overlooked—and that is unacceptable.

When facing a disaster, the community reaction is dependent on having robust systems in place that are prepared to communicate important messages, mobilize support systems, and include the most impacted citizens in our communities. People living with mental illness cannot be overlooked in the process of preparing disaster response plans. All citizen emergency communications must include considerations for citizens living with mental illness. Without proactively working to ensure systems are inclusive, you might hold yourself at risk of leaving out impacted citizens in your disaster response planning, where resources that could be lifesaving are not accessible to all.

The Unique Needs of Citizens Living with a Mental Illness During a Disaster

The distress caused during a disaster is likely to exacerbate or potentially trigger citizens living with mental illness, which means the needs of citizens and their caregivers could be more complex. To be best prepared to serve citizens’ communication needs in an emergency, proactive planning will be vital in ensuring that resources are readily available to support those in need.

The Role of an Emergency Mass Notification System

One consideration in creating disaster response plans is having a comprehensive system like our own CivicReady® solution that can play an integral role in crafting and sharing important messages for impactful and lifesaving disaster response. Emergency mass notification systems like CivicReady allow alerts to go directly to citizens in the community via their preferred communication method—email, text, or phone message. Such functionality allows you to directly communicate with residents and travelers and ensure that updates happen promptly. Additionally, mass notification systems can provide a means to share resources broadly and quickly as they’re established to support recovery efforts. Finally, a mass notification system can reach people across language barriers in the community—and this can be especially useful for caregivers if they need to translate messages to the person they are supporting.

Consistent and reliable communication underscores the importance of information sharing when a disaster impacts a community. Without communication from local leaders, things can go into further disarray. Mass notifications that reach as many folks as possible can help information spread by word of mouth as neighbors look to support and uplift one another during a crisis. Additionally, with mass notification systems, there is the ability to send out messages if people go missing. This functionality can be especially impactful if there are vulnerable individuals who have gone missing or may not be able to communicate their whereabouts to their caregiver. Thinking about people living with mental illness and ensuring you have the equipment and strategies that can best serve them during a disaster is key because if your plans, resources, and equipment can help the most vulnerable people in your community, you’re likely meeting the needs of all those at risk in the most effective and impactful manner.

CivicReady provides the tools to keep everyone in your community safe. When you’re creating your disaster response plan, it’s imperative to ensure you’re thinking of everyone at the outset and ensuring that the tactics and tools you use will serve the most vulnerable. Disaster response plans are not at their most impactful if they only consider non-disabled individuals or folks who are not living with mental illness. Take the time to plan with intentionality in remembering the power, responsibility, and importance of serving a diverse community with diverse needs.

For more disaster planning support, download our Crisis Communication Plan Template.