systems are worth investigating for these purposes, she says.
• Consider location. As people on the Gulf Coast are aware,
some geographical areas are more vulnerable than others.
If your office is in a high-risk area, consider a relocation. If
moving isn’t an option, store your original documents (license,
will, diplomas) in a fireproof, waterproof box.
• Plan alternate office space. Find alternative venues
where you can conduct therapy in the event your office is in
an area impacted by a disaster. Talk with colleagues about
sharing their spaces if needed. Or find public or private
spaces that might be available. If a crisis does occur, check
with your state psychological association or other colleagues
who might be willing to help by offering free office space.
“It’s part of peer support,” says Raymond Hanbury, PhD,
coordinator of the New Jersey Psychological Association’s
Disaster Response Network and the state’s disaster mental
health advisor for the Red Cross.
• Prepare a backup phone system. Traditional phone lines
are a common casualty in emergencies, so create an alternate
communication system for your clients. Cell phones are
particularly useful since even if you can’t make phone calls
during times of caller overload, sometimes you can still text.
In addition, disaster response agencies arrange with utility
companies to deploy vehicles that contain emergency phone
equipment so people can make calls. Make sure your clients are
aware of these options.
• Have information handouts ready. Like other volunteers,
Hanbury keeps “go bags” supplied with information on
hospitals, counseling services, social services and other essential
materials. Having this information on hand means giving your
clients an important head start on helping themselves, he says,
and prevents you from scrambling for this information at the
• Prepare clients. Inform your clients that you volunteer
during disasters and may occasionally be called out to help.
Most of the time they’ll be pleased you do, says Hastings. “Many
of my clients have said, ‘You know, I really wanted to help when
such and such happened, and I felt so helpless. When you said
you were going, I felt relieved because in letting you go, I felt I
was helping, too.’” n
Tori DeAngelis is a journalist in Syracuse, New York.