Disaster Human Services and Emergency Operations

​The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS) Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (OMHSAS) partners with the Pennsylvania Department of Health's Office of Public Health Preparedness to strengthen the focus on emergency behavioral health at the state, county, and local levels. Together these agencies have conducted training, support, and funding programs and set up the Crisis Counseling Program.


A training program was established to help communities develop emergency behavioral health plans and train staff in psychological first aid and disaster crisis communications and referral teams.

Psychological First Aid

  • Evidence-informed modular approach to help children, adolescents, adults, and families in the immediate aftermath of disaster, terrorism, and other crisis events
  • Designed to reduce the initial distress caused by traumatic events and to foster short- and long-term adaptive functioning and coping
  • Based on the understanding that disaster survivors and others affected by such events will experience a broad range of early reactions (physical, psychological, behavioral, and spiritual). Some of these reactions will cause enough distress to interfere with adaptive coping, and recovery may be facilitated by support from compassionate and caring disaster responders.
  • Continuing education credits are currently available for the following disciplines: Emergency Medical Services certification including EMT and First Responder, Nursing, and Social Work

Disaster Crisis Outreach and Referral Team

One day training based on Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) best practices. Topics covered include:

  • Emphasis on crisis counseling in Disaster Recovery Centers
  • Crisis counseling program concepts
  • The psychosocial needs of isolated/quarantined individuals and the impact of pandemic influenza
  • Review of the concepts of National Incident Management System
  • Potential drug and alcohol abuse issues after a disaster
  • Children's needs following a disaster
  • Personal and community resiliency
  • The National Biodefense Science Board recommendations to the Department of Health and Human Services
  • In addition, the psychological impact of the following events is discussed: mass casualties/mass fatalities, economic crisis, pandemic
  • If interested in joining a disaster team in your county, please contact your county Mental Health Office

Initiative Support and Funding

  • Pennsylvania State Police Member Assistance Program
    The Office of the Medical Director also supports programs like the Pennsylvania State Police's Member Assistance Program. This program offers PA State Police personnel and their families peer contacts to help through a wide range of personal and work-related issues. Peer contacts are not professional counselors, but rather everyday state police personnel who have received specialized training to help you manage and maintain good mental and emotional health.

    Pennsylvania Americans Showing Compassion, Assistance and Reaching out with Empathy for Service Members
    As military personnel return home to Pennsylvania from their duties, these individuals and their family members may experience a variety of readjustment challenges. In response to this, the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, and the Department of Veterans Affairs, have joined with various state and local agencies to form a voluntary advisory and action task force to assist these veterans and their families with a successful reintegration back to their families and communities.