Disaster Response Network engages in outreach after earthquake in Haiti

Operated out of the Practice Directorate, the Disaster Response Network has been spearheading initiatives in response to the devastating earthquake

By Public Relations Staff

January 28, 2010 — Following the devastating earthquake in Haiti, the American Psychological Association (APA) Disaster Response Network (DRN) is engaged in a number of initiatives, including:

  • distributing guidelines for psychologists about international disaster response work and psychological resources for people in the United States and Canada who are distressed about deceased or injured persons in Haiti;

  • offering culturally sensitive and informed psychological support through Red Cross chapters and local government agencies to support sizable Haitian communities in states such as New York, Massachusetts, and Florida, as well as in Washington, D.C. and Ontario, Canada; 

  • meeting planes of U.S. citizens being repatriated to this country from Haiti;

  • preparing to offer psychological support to relief and rescue workers returning from Haiti; and,

  • communicating and collaborating with the American Red Cross Disaster Mental Health activity, agencies of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and other non-governmental organizations.

The American Red Cross, APA’s long-standing partner in disaster response, is not recruiting psychologists or other mental health professionals to offer direct services to survivors in Haiti. Neither are its partner Red Cross organizations, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the Haiti Red Cross.

APA’s Statement on the Role of Psychologists in International Emergencies and Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) Guidelines on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Emergency Settings recommend that psychologists do not travel to foreign countries to provide psychological support unless they are well versed in the country’s history, politics, culture and language and then only if they have been invited by the foreign government or a recognized relief organization with permission to work in the country.  The limited number of psychologists from the US in or en route to Haiti work primarily for the U.S. government and are providing support to aid workers on the ground that are engaged in recovery, medical care and the provision of basic life sustaining resources.

In addition, APA staff in both the Public and Member Communications and Practice Directorates have worked on media outreach and response to provide news reporters and producers with appropriate experts on the mental health issues raised by natural disasters. For example, DRN members have been interviewed for national media outlets including Time magazine and Guideposts.
Because of the enormity of the earthquake and tremendous loss of life and number of injured survivors, Haiti will be recovering and rebuilding from this disaster for years. In the months and years ahead, psychologists may have the opportunity to consult with and train Haitian leaders and mental health professionals to help them develop and sustain services and resources that meet the psychological needs of earthquake survivors. Psychologists may also have the opportunity to collaborate with professional colleagues in Haiti to conduct research and identify ways to prepare for future disasters.