1 » Know yourself and your skills. Not everyone is trained, skilled, or able to tolerate some of the difficult conditions in the field. You may be working in hazardous weather and other physical conditions, as can be seen in the scenes from the horrific earthquake in Haiti. You may be sleeping outside and lack sufficient food, water, rest, or sense of safety. Supervision is not always available on-site and everyone is busy.
2 » Disaster work is NOT office-based therapy and the skills applied in your outpatient service are not disaster response skills. Know the difference! You will likely see survivors only once and do not have time to build relationships. Survivors' defenses are down which makes them emotionally raw and usually intense. You will likely feel overwhelmed and inadequate if you are unaware of how to conduct disaster response work. You may even feel this way if you are an experienced disaster responder.
3 » Volunteers who rush to a disaster scene unattached to an approved organization or without understanding of the Incident Command System can become a burden and even a danger to responders. Do not rush to a scene if you are not called as part of an organized response. Join an organization and train with them before an event.
4 » Supervision, Self-Care, and Debriefing are critical in disaster work. Do not ignore them. If you do, you risk suffering with secondary traumatic stress symptoms or worse, causing harm to survivors.
5 » Consider supervision, coordinating, or managing within your agency or community. Many volunteers have community organizational and management skills that are in great demand in emergency situations. You may find yourself having to respond within your own neighborhood in the immediate aftermath of a traumatic event. Use your training to help yourself and those around you. When help arrives, the situation may be less problematic as a result.
6 » Review and use the Pre- and Post-Deployment guidelines. Learn from the experience of others. Maintain your boundaries even within the understanding of the need for some flexibility. If you are interested in receiving the Pre- and Post-Deployment guidelines, I am happy to email them to you.