Case Studies

Tackling the human challenge

COVID-19 and Natural Disasters Impact Heroic First Responders

In the afternoon hours of October 10, 2018, an unprecedented Category 5 Hurricane, “Michael” made landfall in the Florida panhandle. Hurricane Michael impacted nearly 50,000 structures across the Florida Panhandle, western Big Bend, southwest Georgia and southeast Alabama. Of these impacted structures, the hurricane destroyed more than 3,000. Michael also caused 9 direct and 43 indirect deaths, and left a trail of environmental, health, economic, social, and psychological wounds to the region which persist to-date

As private citizens with homes and families in heavily damaged areas, first responders suffered pronounced personal losses, both physical and emotional. Even in the face of these impacts, most selflessly answered the call to provide the difficult work of disaster response in these largely rural, under resourced communities prior to the arrival of federal and mutual aid.  

Data and experience point to the fact that first responders are at higher risk for undiagnosed and untreated mental health issues and less likely to engage in help-seeking behaviors. Given firefighters, EMS workers and police were both residents of the Michael disaster area as well as first responders in the situation, they are at high risk for serious mental health issues. 

The COVD-19 pandemic has had a similar impact on first responders; namely dealing with those affected by the disease while concerned about potentially infecting themselves and their own families.

Tackling this human challenge requires addressing the most pressing issues;  namely linking first responders with appropriate mental health and substance abuse services: dealing with the shortage of local providers, providers lacking cultural competency with first responders, inadequate insurance benefits, perceived stigma, lack of awareness and misunderstandings regarding mental health issues, and fear of employment consequences for seeking services (leadership culture).  The below diagram outlines Readiness2Lead’s approach to this challenge.

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