Best Practices for Disaster Case Management 2023

As more and more of us now live in cities, natural and manufactured disasters have a much more significant impact on people’s lives than in the past. Nearly 80 percent of the US population resides in urban areas, increasing population concentration in coastal flood-prone communities and regions. Congestion, limited escape routes, dense infrastructure, and poverty add to vulnerability. Cities and countries in other areas of the world face similar problems.

Disasters test our limits as a community and a civilization. In unexpected times of chaos and sudden breakdowns in systems, groups of people must come together to help those affected by the emergency. Disasters can impact all aspects of life and make survival harder, the longer a group is exposed to circumstances. So, help must arrive swiftly and rehabilitate the affected as soon as possible in an orderly manner.

Such efforts will require resources, individuals with expertise, rapid communication, coordination, and strategic plans to rehabilitate people to a normal life again. Given the broad range of tasks and groups involved, systems and tools must be present to assist those managing disaster affectees.

What is Disaster Case Management (DCM)?

Effective disaster response and recovery involve identifying and establishing an organization that serves the needs of vulnerable populations utilizing pre-disaster risk assessments and crisis management communication with planned and tested tools and vital resources. Disaster Case Management is one such tool.

DCM is a program that addresses human services needs following a disaster through partner integration, provider capacity building, and State level program development. Disaster Case Management (DCM) is vital in connecting vulnerable populations with available resources after a disaster.

Federal Disaster Case Management is a program that addresses human services needs through state-level partnerships with Health and Human Services. Currently, this program is only available during presidentially declared disasters upon request by the governor through FEMA.

DCM is a recovery partnership between disaster survivors and case managers. The process involves identifying unmet needs: monetary, advocacy, and other necessary resources to survive and recover from a disaster. Each disaster survivor has unique social, financial, or legal needs. Disaster case managers identify those needs and connect them with the necessary resources.

DCM services educate all involved communities, identify needed resources, and address the diverse needs of the impacted population. Disaster case managers listen to, support, investigate, educate, care for, and advocate for affected families throughout their long road to recovery. Disaster case managers also develop individual recovery plans to guide affected individuals throughout their recovery process.

A Many Stakeholder Solution

Collaboration among stakeholders using the right tools will help identify needs and find solutions to assist communities during the response and recovery phases.

Disaster recovery is intensive and extensive, thus, very time-consuming. Redundant, repeatable steps of looking for available resources at multiple public, private, and nonprofit organizations should be minimized to expedite the services for individuals impacted by the disaster.

Materials and equipment that are necessary for rebuilding and rehabilitating may be obtained by creating partnerships with private industry.

Coordinating resources through a previously established platform – to identify and track donor funds and available resources – can nearly eliminate the duplication of benefits, creating shortages of lifesaving resources in one area while others benefit.

The significance of case managers in DCM

The overall case management goal in disaster recovery programs is to move applicants as quickly as possible from disaster to recovery. That work involves more than just processing applications and paperwork. Experienced case managers know how critical it is to build strong relationships with applicants. They do this by listening, showing empathy, providing excellent customer service and support, and communicating program requirements.

Consistency in all these areas is important. Applicants often develop a relationship with their case managers through this process, so their initial meeting must be positive. Evenwell-adjusted members of society find themselves badly hurt and clueless in the aftermath of a disaster which makes the job of DCM workers ever important, they must connect with, guide, and provide services for the usually large number of affected individuals by arranging necessary resources , funds and service providers.

Disaster case management best practices

Case management is a collaborative and iterative process. It involves taking action up front and throughout the program—advocating, assessing, communicating, coordinating, facilitating, and planning—to achieve a goal or an outcome. Here we share five case management best practices and lessons for DCM.

  • Define and stick to your approach.
    One-One Approach: assigning one case manager per application often produces the best outcome for the applicant. The benefit to applicants is that they will have a dedicated case manager throughout the process who understands their situation and is available to answer questions, particularly important during chaotic times such as post-disaster. This approach can cut down on confusion and frustration for applicants, and save time getting multiple case managers up to speed.
  • Assembly-Line method
    Another approach referred to as the “assembly-line” method, is a process in which case managers are assigned based on functions, such as intake or DOB, rather than by applicant. The benefit of this approach is case managers will be dedicated to performing specific functions and know them well. You can also assign case managers based on expertise; eg, a housing expert should look at housing for all applicants, while a health expert connects them to doctors and hospitals. Ideally, whatever approach you use, the method should not be switched until all rehabilitation efforts have concluded. Otherwise, it will only add to the confusion and chaos stakeholders are experiencing due to the disaster.
  • Establish upfront communication
    Case managers rely on detailed procedures and checklists to assist applicants. Clear guidance and documentation, provided by the case manager as soon as possible, promote applicants’ trust in the program. A commonly used handout or checklist lists the documents that applicants need to gather and prepare before their initial intake meeting. Disaster-affected individuals often do not have access to some of their documents, case workers should be able to provide guidance in case of missing documents.
  • Place a strong emphasis on training
    The training and onboarding time can be intense for case managers as it includes many things, from federal processes and regulations, program procedures and protocols, to customer service, interviewing applicants, and de-escalating situations. Training should be ongoing and must be reinforced often. Supervisors should prioritize regular training sessions to strengthen and enhance skills.
  • Promote accessibility
    Accessibility and flexibility have always been critical considerations in case management. Some disasters force us to pay further attention to these considerations. As technology advances, we should consider processes and workflows to prepare applications over the phone, using drop boxes or a secure online portal rather than visiting an intake center. Additionally, applicants can only sometimes travel to meet their case managers. Most programs can and should offer transportation services for people with mobility issues.
  • Use data to inform decisions
    Recovery programs often use case management tools and software to manage applicant documentation in real time. To track the overall health and effectiveness of the program, managers use these systems to provide accurate and regular reporting. Tracking relevant data (total number of applications, where applicants are getting stuck, how quickly case managers are processing applicants, how many applications need environmental clearances, etc.) allows us to evaluate case management and program performance, intervene, and remove roadblocks as required . Decisions on further processes and workflows should be based on such data.

PlanStreet’s case management software can help DCM workers bring together intake, and service provision, track progress, and monitor impact in the aftermath of disasters by providing a one-stop portal for:

  • Volunteer coordination
  • Tracking donations
  • Applicant intake
  • Monitoring impact
  • Reporting and Analytics

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