Disaster Behavioral Health Planning & Response

The University of Nebraska Public Policy Center is celebrating 25 years in policy and research. We have collaborated with many partners to bring about real-world solutions in our communities. As a university-wide, multidisciplinary research and outreach unit, we are committed to addressing complex issues by linking academic research, stakeholder perspectives, and practical experience through innovative and creative solutions.

A primary focus is to foster disaster behavioral health preparedness, training, and response for behavioral health professionals, first responders, and community members, through trainings, resources, and annual exercises.

Here’s a highlight of some of the work that has resulted from these partnerships:

Disaster Behavioral Health Efforts

The Public Policy Center (PPC) marked 20 years of continuous funding for Disaster Behavioral Health planning and response in partnership with the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (NE DHHS). The funding has supported activities and trainings in disaster behavioral health and disaster preparedness, such as the creation of the statewide Disaster Behavioral Health Response and Recovery Plan, a Disaster Behavioral Health Field Guide, annual statewide disaster behavioral health exercise, and curriculum development and trainings for Nebraska Disaster Psychological First Aid. Learn more at disastermh.nebraska.edu.

Nebraska Strong Recovery Project

The Public Policy Center (PPC) partnered with state agencies to facilitate federal Crisis Counseling Program funding after multiple large-scale disasters (i.e., 2004 southeast Nebraska tornado, 2014 and 2019 floods, and COVID-19 pandemic). These programs were branded as the Nebraska Strong Recovery Project. The most recent project phase was funded in response to the COVID pandemic. This was a statewide collaboration between the University of Nebraska Public Policy Center, the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency, and the state’s six behavioral health regions. Efforts involved media outreach that included: 238 TV spots, 160 radio spots, new outreach materials on self-care and defusing anger in others, radio public service announcements, and print and digital ads in newspapers around Nebraska. A half-hour Nebraska Connects program was also produced by Nebraska Public Media focused on emotional and psychological well-being. Behavioral Health Regions statewide provided education, support, and individual and group crisis counseling across the state, with 117,375 services delivered over a year and a half. Regions were innovative with service delivery during COVID-19, such as using markers that write on glass to interact with nursing home residents.

Disaster Behavioral Health Response: School-based Services

The Disaster Behavioral Health Response (school-based services), a follow-up to the Nebraska Strong effort, formed to serve areas that experienced flooding in 2019. The program was operated by the Region 6 Behavioral Healthcare in collaboration with Region 3 Behavioral Health Services and Region 4 Behavioral Health System from spring 2020 to fall 2022. This project placed licensed mental health providers, or services that could connect students with mental health providers, in suburban and rural schools, making it easier for families to access services because their children did not need to be pulled out of school to receive the care they need.