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For almost three years, Nebraska has been viewing disaster behavioral health as an integral component of the response which takes place at the time of a disaster. In fact, the need for disaster behavioral health as part of the immediate or first response to a disaster has been written into the state’s formal disaster plan. However, because there is a shortage of behavioral health providers in Nebraska (88 of 93 counties are considered shortage areas) partnerships with “natural helpers” – including clergy and faith leaders – are being forged. Out of this necessity has come the Nebraska Disaster Chaplain Network, a creative expansion of the first responder resource pool.
Disaster Chaplains are providers of “Spiritual First Aid.” In essence, they are like providers of physical first aid – recognizing that they do not have the qualifications of CPE trained chaplains – but they do have the capacity to be present, listen, support and comfort. They have to undergo an elaborate screening process, including an interdisciplinary interview, a background check and an agreement to abide by a code of ethics and guiding principles which establishes that proselytizing is not acceptable.