Disaster Planning


Allison Weeks
Division of Behavioral Health
751 Old Richardson Hwy, Ste 123
Fairbanks, AK 99701-7802


The Division of Behavioral Health’s history of disaster response in Alaska dates back to the 1996 Miller’s Reach Wildfire. “Project Fireweed”, which was funded through FEMA, sponsored by DBH, and administered by Life Quest Community Mental Health Center in Wasilla, established the need for a comprehensive plan and planning process, and set the precedent for DBH to partner with local CMHC to provide effective mental health disaster response.

The state’s first mental health plan was signed into effect in February, 2001. The new plan was put to its first test just a few months later when PenAir Flight 350 crashed on take-off from Dillingham on October 10, 2001 killing ten people. That mental health response effort highlighted the need for further planning considerations – collaborative agreements with other response organizations like the American Red Cross, and the need to provide services simultaneously to multiple communities.

Following the 911 tragedy the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) recognized the need for all states to update their mental health emergency response plans. These new plans needed to reflect terrorist threats, and in general to adopt an “all-hazards” approach to planning and response. These new plans needed to also assume a ‘behavioral’ health focus which would consider not only mental health but substance abuse services as well. Alaska was one of the states awarded a grant. It allowed the Division of Behavioral Health to employ full time staff to embark upon an inclusive planning process, and to write a comprehensive plan that would reflect lessons learned, and the emerging best practices in the field of behavioral health disaster response. The grant also provided in part for DBH to develop and conduct training for behavioral health professionals in our CMHC statewide.

In response to the SAMHSA grant the Division and its stakeholder group of advisors has established significant collaborative relationships with the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army and numerous other state agencies and organizations including, the Division of Public Health, the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association, and the Victims of Crime Compensation Board. Research, teamwork, and countless hours of planning have culminated in the development of the 2005 State of Alaska Behavioral Health Emergency Response Plan. The Division has also developed competency based behavioral health disaster response training. This 8-hour training has been and continues to be provided to CMHC statewide to develop skilled staff and to help agencies prepare for behavioral health response and recovery operations.

However, this work is not the end goal of our achievements. It merely signals our commitment to continue developing the most responsive and effective behavioral health support system to meet the needs of all Alaska peoples in the event of a disaster.