Disaster & Emergency Planning

The University of Nebraska Public Policy Center works with local, state, and federal agencies on a variety of projects relating to disaster and emergency planning. In addition to program coordination and evaluation, and trainings in emergency and disaster preparedness, our role includes fostering links between mental health and substance abuse resources with public health systems, healthcare networks, emergency management, and first responder groups.

The PPC has performed national and statewide consultation in various areas of disaster behavioral health planning. Such activities also include training in evidence-based psychological first aid training as part of disaster behavioral health preparedness. Stakeholders from across the state and across disciplines are involved in projects focused on behavioral health; emergency planning; and disaster preparedness, planning, and response. 

The PPC has engaged in a multi-year partnership with the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency and the Governor’s Homeland Security Cabinet to provide technical assistance in various areas of homeland security planning. Center staff have performed national and statewide consultation in various areas of disaster behavioral health planning. Such activities also include evidence-based psychological first aid training as part of disaster behavioral health preparedness.

Recent projects include: the Nebraska Strong Recovery Project, State Disaster Behavioral Health Planning, Emergency Planning for Schools.

Efforts in this area include:

  • The Nebraska Disaster Behavioral Health Plan, which the Center helped develop, has been featured by the U.S. Health and Human Services Public Health as providing a framework for organizing the behavioral health response to disasters.
  • Conducting a Training of Trainers for Psychological First Aid in collaboration with the Nebraska Medical Reserve Corps.
  • Facilitating state and regional level homeland security groups addressing statewide interoperable communications, statewide bomb squads, state homeland security policy group, and regional homeland security funded planning groups.
  • Participating in a statewide bioterrorism exercise to develop policies around the distribution of emergency medical supplies.
  • Producing a YouTube video for the Threat and Hazard Identification and Risk Analysis (THIRA) Process. This Center production was added to a course provided to responders and planners across the United States by the FEMA Emergency Management Institute (EMI).
  • Producing a video describing the Climate for Cities project focusing on how cities throughout the four-state Upper Missouri River Basin are planning for a changing climate.
  • Creating a statewide corps of citizen and medical disaster response professionals. This project facilitated training dozens of these volunteers in Psychological First Aid.
  • Compiling a toolkit for states and communities to implement FEMA planning processes in preparation for drought conditions in conjunction with the National Drought Center and High Plains Climate Research Center.
  • Training communities throughout Nebraska in search and rescue, debris management, and volunteer reception center operations.
  • Developing Nebraska’s Risk Communication Cadre—a multi-agency collaboration of communication professionals whose emergency messaging products have been used in planning by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • Developing an on-line training curriculum titled “Disaster Psychological First Aid Refresher Course” to make psychological first aid more accessible to disaster responders in-state and nationally.
  • Training Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funded crisis counselors responding to various disasters across the nation (e.g., the wildfires in northern California).

Emergency Operations Planning for Schools

The University of Nebraska Public Policy Center is collaborating with the Nebraska Department of Education on a five-year grant to help Nebraska schools develop emergency operations plans. “The project is two-fold,” said Denise Bulling, senior research director with the Public Policy Center and expert in disaster response. “One is to enhance the ability of the Nebraska Department of Education to offer technical assistance with developing these plans, and two is to increase the quality of emergency operations plans within K-12 schools.”

The PPC is helping Nebraska schools prepare for disasters and future emergencies. Center staff created a Continuity of Operations Procedures (COOP) webinar for the Nebraska Department of Education as part of the Department of Education Emergency Operations Plan project. The webinar is intended for school safety teams and guides them through the process of developing a COOP for their school or district. A COOP plan allows schools to continue providing essential services even if building structures or staff are unavailable due to a disaster or emergency. The webinar was introduced to Educational Service Units (ESUs) 5 and 6, which cover portions of southeast Nebraska. The PPC conducted a virtual pandemic exercise for Nebraska schools and provided a training video for schools who were not able to attend. That video, along with two other videos produced by the PPC to support K-12 school emergency operations planning, will be posted on the Nebraska Department of Education school safety website. Other videos, include one on assessing threats and one on Continuity of Operations (COOP), are in production.

The project, which was funded by the United States Department of Education, began in 2018. Associates with the Public Policy Center wrote the grant with NDE, collaborated with NDE and state agencies to develop training materials, conducted trainings, and are evaluating exercises to measure the progress of Nebraska K-12 public schools toward having quality emergency operations plans.

Find out more about how the PPC is helping schools prepare for disasters and future emergencies in Nebraska Today.


Educational Service Units Threat Assessment Training

The Public Policy Center partnered with the Nebraska Department of Education to conduct basic and advanced threat assessment training for Nebraska schools. The training is sponsored by local Educational Service Units in all areas of the state and features guidelines created by the Public Policy Center that translate the science and practice of threat assessment for use by local school and community teams. Participants in the training include educators, administrators, law enforcement, mental health, public health, and human resource professionals around the state of Nebraska. This training utilizes a threat assessment strategy specifically tailored for rural settings and other schools with limited resources.

Threat assessment and management evolved from practices used to assess and manage potential risk of violence. This K-12 school team training aims to help schools form or enhance the team that will focus on identifying, assessing, and managing the risk/threat of violence posed by students, staff, and community members toward the school community. The purpose of threat assessment teams are distinct from issues addressed by safety teams, student behavior teams, and crisis response teams; though all of these school teams may be implicated in strategies for monitoring and managing potential threats. To date, statewide K-12 Threat Assessment Training has reached over 100 Nebraska school districts, helping Nebraska schools prepare for and mitigate threats in schools.

Learn more by visiting the Threat Assessment website.

Disaster Behavioral Health Project

The goal of the Disaster Behavioral Health Project is to develop human infrastructure in Nebraska to effectively mitigate or respond to the psychosocial consequences of violence and disaster.

The University of Nebraska Public Policy Center is working with the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services to implement an All-Hazards Disaster Behavioral Health Response and Recovery Plan for the State of Nebraska. This includes fostering links between mental health and substance abuse resources with public health systems, healthcare networks, emergency management, and first responder groups.

Stakeholders from across the state and across disciplines are involved in this project. Community groups, faith groups, public and private entities, and key responders like the American Red Cross, Nebraska’s Critical Incident Stress Management Team, and Nebraska State Agencies are all collaborating with the Public Policy Center in this endeavor.

Learn more by visiting the Disaster Behavioral Health website.


Conference & Training Facilitation

For many of our active projects, our staff plan and execute conferences, workshops, and seminars of all sizes, virtual and in-person. This includes event management, technology recommendations, graphic design, communications, and accommodations for in-person and remote-hosted events. Additionally, staff are experienced in managing all logistics for virtual and in-person events. The University of Nebraska Public Policy Center is an approved continuing education sponsor through the American Psychological Association (APA). This means we can facilitate psychologists’ access to continuing education that meets APA standards.

Grant Development & Management

We pursue and manage funding opportunities to support policy-related initiatives. Center researchers garner both public and private funding at the local, state, and national levels for applied and translational research grants. We work closely with partners to identify funding opportunities, develop grant and contract proposal narratives, create budgets and timelines, execute agreements, manage grant funds in accordance with funder requirements, and submit required fiscal and programmatic reporting.

Program Design and Evaluation

Center research staff routinely conduct program evaluations in partnership with stakeholders to define questions, plan activities, interpret results, and use findings to recommend and implement changes. We use quantitative, qualitative, and mixed methods techniques appropriate to the project. Our programmatic capabilities include survey design, interviews, focus groups, mapping geographic data, overall data analysis, and report preparation.

Project Management, Strategic Planning & Consulting

Our researchers bring high-level management expertise to projects for all kinds of organizations. We bring research-based insights to executive decision-making, develop organizational structures to achieve desired results; assist with communication planning, agenda setting and creating necessary informational materials; implement research plans; and guide open communication among stakeholders. Our researchers are trained in facilitation and regularly lead stakeholders through strategic planning, problem definition, and consensus-building, as well as discovering organizational priorities, setting goals, and creating action plans.

Scholarly Research

Our approach is rooted in academic-oriented inquiry and investigation. We provide basic research products for partners such as high-quality and easy-to-understand literature reviews, white papers, and briefing papers. Our researchers come from diverse disciplines, including: Business, Economics, Family and Consumer Sciences, Law, Political Science, Psychology, and Sociology. 

Stakeholder Engagement & Outreach

We work with stakeholders to design and execute customized frameworks. This includes determining the breadth, length, location, and timing of facilitated events; identifying participants; collecting data from participants throughout the planning or engagement process; creating opportunities for feedback and debriefing; and producing draft and final products based on results. In addition, many of our staff consult with outside organizations and conduct professional presentations on a variety of issues.