Supporting Each Other in the Toughest of Times: The Essential Role of Mental Health Partners in Emergency Response
It takes a diverse group of professionals, working side-by-side, to effectively respond to the immediate and long term aftermath of large scale emergencies such as those becoming all too common on the nightly news.
Experienced mental health professionals are important members of every response team. Their knowledge and unique skills are required in all stages of response and recovery.
We are fortunate to have three groups on campus:
University Community Response Team
The University Community Response Team (UCRT) is an interdisciplinary group of Twin Cities Campus professionals who provide supportive services to groups of students affected by trauma. Examples of groups served include residence halls, classes, academic departments, student organizations, and athletic teams. Team members are drawn from mental health professionals, clergy, police, and student affairs professionals.
Behavioral Health Collaborative for Disaster Response
Larger scale emergencies require response from a broader pool of mental health partners and for an extended period of time. A collaborative group was formed several years ago to plan for and respond to campus-wide emergencies comprised of leaders from Student Counseling Services, Boynton Health, U of M Medical Reserve Corps-Behavioral Health Strike Team (including applicable UCRT members), and the AHC Office of Emergency Response.
Pet Away Worries and Stress (PAWS)
The powerful and positive impact of companion animals in times of stress and crisis is well documented. The University of Minnesota enjoys a strong partnership with Pet Away Worries and Stress (PAWS). PAWS animals and their humans have a routine presence on campus as one component of our community’s commitment to wellness for students and employees. PAWS colleagues also play an important role in our disaster response plans.
In August, mental health partners participated in a drill to practice the use of a Reunification Center and Family Assistance Center following a mass casualty event. Reunification Centers are designed to support and facilitate the reunification of family and friends with their loved ones following a large scale incident. Family Assistance Centers are designed to support families as they work with the Office of the Medical Examiner in cases of mass fatalities. The August drill was an opportunity for the U of M Medical Reserve Corps – Logistics Strike Team to practice new protocols for the rapid set-up of a Reunification Center, as well as the transition from reunification to family assistance. U of M Medical Reserve Corps – Behavioral Health Strike Team members received training on their response roles. Members from both Strike Teams – and PAWS partners – toured and provided feedback on the site, as did a group of additional response colleagues from the campus and community.
Although we truly hope to never use the plans and protocols we are creating for disaster response, we continue to move down a path toward readiness. The path is long and winding. I am so grateful for the wonderful partners we have on this journey – human, furry, and feathered!
Jill DeBoer, Director
Academic Health Center Office of Emergency Response
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