Response Resources for Leaders

During a crisis, the public relies on leaders to make decisions, provide updates, and make recommendations affecting their safety and well-being. Leaders, including government officials and leaders in non-governmental organizations, community organizations, and religious groups play an important role in helping communities and individuals cope during and after a disaster. Learn how to help your community cope with a disaster.

  • Disaster Distress Helpline: CALL or TEXT 1-800-985-5990 (press 2 for Spanish).
  • Deaf/Hard of Hearing ASL users can call the DDH hotline via their videophone-enabled device or click on “ASL Now” at to connect directly with DDH crisis counselors fluent in ASL.

Recognize Common Reactions to Stressful Events:

It is natural to experience stress during a disaster or traumatic event. Look for these signs of stress in yourself, and members of your family and community:

  • Feelings of stress, grief, fear, or anger.
  • Struggle to carry out routine activities after a disaster and lack of interest in activities they usually enjoy.
  • Sleep disturbances, often including nightmares and thoughts about the disaster.
  • Changes in appetite, tiredness, headaches, and stomach aches.
  • A need to talk, often repeatedly, about events and feelings associated with the disaster.

Checklist and Supplies

Address basic safety needs first, then identify and address common stress reactions.

How to Support Coping:

  • Address basic survival needs before focusing on emotional needs.
  • Start supporting survivors’ ability to cope by making them more comfortable. (Take simple steps like offering a phone, handing out blankets, and distributing water).
  • Expect that disaster relief assistance may be confusing to survivors. They may experience frustration, anger, and feelings of helplessness, and some of these feelings may be directed toward response agencies and representatives of these agencies.
  • Give opportunities for survivors to take actions to help themselves and their community in response efforts.
  • Provide as much information as possible and continue to update.

When to Refer Someone for Professional Help

These reactions signal a need for referral to a mental health professional or to the SAMHSA helpline: 

  • Confusion, memory loss, inability to state the current date.
  • Strong and constant feelings of sadness or strong anxiety that prevents completing regular tasks.
  • Hearing voices or seeing things that are not there.
  • Not regularly eating, bathing, or changing clothes or taking care of oneself.
  • Thoughts or desires to harm oneself or others or becoming violent.
  • Misuse of drugs or alcohol.
A woman sits in the foreground speaking while a woman and man sit to her right and left listening.

Express empathy and listen carefully

Tips for compassionate communication with victims of a crisis:

Through decisive, timely, and compassionate communication, leaders can reduce fear and anxiety.

  • Show Respect: Respectful communication is particularly important when people feel vulnerable.
  • Express empathy by acknowledging the emotions of those who are suffering.
  • Listen and allow emotional expressions or crying without interruption.
  • Do not answer questions outside of your expertise. Refer people to appropriate experts.
  • Use the same words as the person who is speaking. For example, if they say “passed” instead of “dead,” you should also say “passed.”
  • Avoid using examples from your own life and keep the focus on those currently suffering.
  • Look for cues in body language, and ask if they would like to be left alone, to talk to someone else, or to talk to a mental health professional or faith leader.

For additional resources on communicating with populations in crises visit the Crisis and Emergency Risk Communications (CERC) resources page.

Two women stand talking at the front gate of a house.

Give opportunities for survivors to take action to take care of themselves and others.

The Role of Leaders in Community Coping and Recovery

During a crisis, a leader may become a symbol of order. Leaders can strengthen a community during a crisis.

  • Give members of the community actions they can take to help based on their strengths (i.e., check on neighbors, bring emergency supplies to the elderly, donate supplies, or volunteer to help rebuild).
  • Encourage survivors to take care of themselves and others.
  • Draw upon cultural and community values to bring people together.
  • Give fast and accurate updates.
  • Listen to the concerns of others.
  • Recognize responders’ contributions during and after a crisis.
  • As a leader, help responders that you supervise manage stress during a crisis.