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Disaster Psychiatry and Disaster Behavioral Health Consultation

Natural disasters are an enduring phenomenon affecting individuals, families, communities and nations across the globe. Natural disasters disrupt lives, displace many people, and can result in public health crises, injuries and fatalities. These events also can have substantial affects on first responders and individuals in close proximity to, and even far away from, the actual event. The Center has been involved in nearly every disaster since its establishment 26 years ago through post-disaster research, education, and consultation to leadership and community stakeholders in areas of disaster preparedness, response and recovery.


Washington Navy Yard Shooting. Center Scientist, Navy Commander Patcho Santiago, led a team from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC) to support the Special Psychiatric Rapid Intervention Team (SPRINT) that provided Psychological First Aid to the Sailors and Navy civilians working aboard the Navy Yard. U.S. Public Health Service CDR Josh Morganstein, M.D., RADM (Ret.) Brian Flynn, Ed.D., and LCDR Jennifer Bornemann provided ongoing consultation expert consultation to local officials and DoD personnel involved in the disaster response. The CSTS response was featured in the APA’s Psychiatric News Alert titled, “Mental Health Response Quickly Follows Navy Yard Shooting.” CSTS also distributed customized, just-in-time fact sheets to over 2,000 government and private sector stakeholders on diverse topics including “leadership in the face of workplace tragedy”, “stress management” and “managing a workplace after a disaster”.

2013 also saw two natural disasters, domestic and international, and a terrorist event that engaged our Center’s expertise. We provided educational outreach, just-in-time education and consultation to community leaders in the wake of the Moore, Oklahoma tornado, the Boston Marathon bombings and Typhoon Haiyan.


Drawing upon his expertise in helping communities respond to and recover from traumatic events, CSTS Associate Director for Health Systems, Dr. Brian Flynn, reached out to the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors in the aftermath of the Aurora, Colorado movie-theater shooting that occurred on July 20, 2012.

Unfortunately, 2012 saw two tragic mass shooting episodes: in a movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado and Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut. In both instances, the Center and its Associate Director, Brian Flynn provided expertise in the form of consultation and public health resources to mitigate the behavioral health consequences of such traumas on those affected and on their communities.

Dr. Flynn actively consulted with the State of Connecticut following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings that occurred on December 14, 2012 in Newtown, Connecticut. He provided phone consultation around preparation and process for official death notification, advised the State on management of the influx of volunteers, and leadership interaction with grieving families and the media.

In response to Superstorm Sandy that occurred in the fall of 2012, LCDR Jennifer Bornemann deployed as a member of one of the United States Public Health Service Access Teams to help hurricane victims. LCDR Bornemann assisted the case management and social services staff at Bayshore Community Hospital in Holmdel, NJ with patient assessments, discharge planning and staff resiliency.


The Center provided consultative assistance on another domestic event with disaster implications providing written and phone consultation to the Missouri Department of Mental Health (MO DMH) regarding the destruction by the Army Corps of Engineers of the levee at Birds Point, Missouri. This outreach was useful to the entire group of State agencies and department, and also to its pubic information officers and coroners.

In March, the Center provided extensive, disaster education resources to support the response efforts to the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake. A former USUHS Disaster and Preventive Psychiatry Fellow living in Sendai, Japan and working with the Japanese Defense Forces at the National Defense School of Medicine, facilitated the translation from English into Japanese of relevant Center fact sheets. These disaster response fact sheets were widely disseminated, and captured the attention of the Japanese Cabinet, which has engaged the Center’s expert consultation up to the present. The Center also consulted with the International Initiative for Mental Health Leadership on short-term and long-term mental health needs in the aftermath of the earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand.