Mass Care & Emergency Assistance

The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS) coordinates the commonwealth's response to disaster-caused human services needs. This includes food, shelter, and disability-related needs as well as emergency behavioral health services. DHS manages Disaster Operational/Planning Task Forces and maintains Mass Care supplies, equipment, and specially trained staff available to support local communities in times of disaster.

2024 Keystone 6 National Mass Care Exercise

The 2024 National Mass Care Exercise, called Keystone 6, was held in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania in May 2024. Over 550 participants representing 110 agencies and 16 states participated. The scenario was a prolonged natural gas outage in winter impacting several million Pennsylvanians across 15 counties. The Department of Human Services stood up a mock commonwealth managed shelter where actors playing shelter residents as well as their children and pets were welcomed. Operational/planning mass care task forces for Feeding, Sheltering, Disability Integration, Reunification, Household Pets, Distribution of Emergency Supplies, and Housing were later activated. Task forces developed Multi-Agency Support Plans to provide for the needs of the tens of thousands residents predicted to require services. A full After-Action Report and Improvement Plan are expected later this year. 

Operational/Planning Task Force 

Whole community coordination in times of disaster makes for a more resilient commonwealth. Community partners and stakeholders are warmly invited to participate on Disaster Operational/Planning Task Forces.

Operational/Planning Task Forces serve as a venue for:

  • Sharing timely information and situational awareness about disaster incidents
  • Communication of disaster-caused unmet human services needs including breaks in community services
  • Linkage of available resources for assisting disaster-impacted Pennsylvanians
  • Support and coordination for disaster response and recovery
  • Disaster program updates from state and federal agencies

Standing Operational/Planning Disaster Task Forces:

  • Feeding Task Force
  • Sheltering Task Force
  • Disability Integration Task Force

Membership on Operational/Planning Disaster Task Forces is open to:

  • Emergency managers
  • Business and private sector partners
  • Voluntary organizations
  • Governmental partners at all levels
  • Faith-based organizations
  • Disability service agencies
  • Social and human services agencies
  • Other stakeholders and subject matter experts

Get Involved

Sign up to be added to the email lists for DHS Operational/Planning Taskforces

Task Force Tool Kits

Mass Care Supplies & Staff

As identified in the Commonwealth Emergency Operations Plan (CEOP), supplies and staff can be mobilized for deployment to fulfill official Resource Requests routed through PEMA by county emergency management.

Disaster Human Services Team

Deployable Disaster Human Services Team Members have training in Red Cross Shelter Fundamentals and the Incident Command System and can support mass care and human services related disaster missions. Some staff are specially trained to support disability-related needs in times of disaster. See below for more information on the Functional Assessment Service Team (FAST).

Commodities and Equipment

PADHS mass care commodities are staged and deployable throughout the commonwealth. Supplies include:

  • Standard cots, bariatric cots, and accessible/medical cots
  • Blankets, comfort kits, and towels
  • Meals Ready-to-Eat (MREs)
  • Bottled water
  • Multi-purpose response trailers
  • Light tower generators

Disaster Disability Integration

PADHS provides several resources that can support people with disabilities and others with access and functional needs during disasters. These include specially trained staff and Disaster Accessibility Kits.

These resources may assist with:

  • Physical, sensory, developmental, cognitive, behavioral health, or intellectual disabilities
  • Coordination of Personal Assistance Services 
  • Durable medical equipment or assistive technology resources and referrals
  • Communication needs, including Augmentative and Alternative Communication 
  • Substance Use Disorder referrals and support
  • Accommodations for children, seniors, pregnant people
  • Limited English Proficiency, including American Sign Language, and other language interpretation/translation services
  • Other disability or access and functional needs

Disaster Accessibility Kits

PADHS maintains several Disaster Accessibility Kits which contain a variety of communication devices and other assistive technology to assist disaster survivors with disabilities or access and functional needs in maintaining their independence, communicating, and accessing disaster related services.

Functional Assessment Service Teams (FAST)

A Functional Assessment Service Team or FAST is a small team of disability experts specially trained to utilize their skills in a disaster setting. FAST deploys to disaster shelters and other disaster areas to assess disaster survivors one on one. FAST helps determine what resources are needed and works with the responders and health services staff on site to get those resources so those impacted by disaster can maintain their health, safety, and independence. FAST is not medical care, but rather helps reduce the burden on medical resources by providing accommodations and other assistance.

Emergency Behavioral Health

Disasters commonly place undue hardship and stress on survivors who may experience a host of emotions and psychological impacts.  Emergency Behavioral Health (EBH) partners help survivors cope with these normal reactions to disaster events.

PADHS provides support for EBH needs during a disaster. This includes training opportunities for EBH responders and coordinators. PADHS maintains a trained EBH Team available for deployment to support disaster impacted Pennsylvanians as do many of our county partners.

Help In Times of Disaster

  • Commonwealth Disaster Assistance
    Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA)
    • PEMA is an independent cabinet-level agency in Pennsylvania tasked with the response to, preparedness for, recovery from, and the mitigation or prevention of disasters and other emergencies.
      Find information on disaster incidents plus news, preparedness materials and more.

  • Federal Disaster Assistance
    Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
    • FEMA supports citizens and emergency personnel to build, sustain, and improve the nation's capability to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate disasters of all types. Find out what help is available for individuals and families, governments, and private non-profits in your area.

  • Disaster Survivors with Disabilities Hotline
    The Partnership for Inclusive Disaster Strategies
    • Call or Text: 1-800-626-4959
    • Email:
      The Partnership for Inclusive Disaster Strategies (The Partnership) is the only U.S. disability-led organization with a focused mission of equity for people with disabilities and people with access and functional needs throughout all planning, programs, services and procedures before, during and after disasters and emergencies. The Partnership's Disability & Disaster Hotline provides information, referrals, guidance, technical assistance and resources to people with disabilities, their families, allies, organizations assisting disaster impacted individuals with disabilities and others seeking assistance with immediate and urgent disaster-related needs. The Disaster Hotline is always available for intake calls, 24/7/365. Their team will respond will respond to your call as soon as possible, often immediately, and they intend to respond to all callers within 24 hours.

  • Mental Health Disaster Services
    Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) 
    • Call or Text: 1-800-985-5990
    • Español: Llama o envía un mensaje de texto 1-800-985-5990 presiona "2"; For deaf and hard of hearing ASL Callers: To connect directly to an agent in American Sign Language, click the "ASL Now" button below or call 1-800-985-5990 from your videophone. ASL Support is available 24/7
      SAMHSA is the agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that leads public health efforts to advance the behavioral health of the nation. SAMHSA's mission is to reduce the impact of substance abuse and mental illness on America's communities. SAMHSA's Disaster Distress Helpline provides 24/7/365 crisis counseling and support to people experiencing emotional distress related to natural or human-caused disasters.