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Supporting Tribes in Emergency Response

Randal Beaton SmallRandal Beaton SmallResearch Professor Randy Beaton gave a keynote presentation at the 7th Annual Tribal Emergency Preparedness Conference in Grand Mound, Washington, in late September. His presentation, "Psychological First Aid: Applications for American Indians" described ways of helping children, adolescents, adults, and families (tribal and nontribal) in the immediate aftermath of disaster.

American Indian tribes and individuals have both strengths and vulnerabilities that help or hinder their psychosocial recovery following a disaster. Tribes may be more prepared than non-Native Americans to respond to crises including public health emergencies, because close-knit communities, customs and rituals, and sharing food and shelter are part of “the Indian way,” he said.

On the other hand, American Indians have suffered trauma over the past 500 years—including loss of place—which can result in unresolved grief and anger and make them more susceptible to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other adverse mental health outcomes. This is one reason why it is important to work with tribal elders who can provide culturally competent services in the aftermath of a disaster, he said.

Reconnecting those who have been separated in a disaster from their tribe or family is probably the single most important core action of psychological first aid. Ideally, these psychological first aid services are provided by a known elder or other tribal member who respects the tribal member in distress and is trusted. Beaton cautioned that, “Long after a disaster survivor’s wound has healed, whether or not they are tribal members, he or she will remember how they were treated by the disaster personnel.”

Nearly 100 people attended Dr. Beaton’s keynote address. “I have been honored to be a speaker at past conferences and always look forward to learning about Northwest American Indian philosophy, culture and traditions and to share ideas on emergency preparedness,” Beaton said.

Dr. Beaton would like to thank the many American Indians who helped him to better understand American Indian culture and the Indian way.


Randal Beaton, PhD, EMT Research Professor of the Department of Psychosocial and Community Health, is an outdoor enthusiast and avid hiker who shares a reverence for nature with American Indians. Professor Beaton's area of research is in Emergency Preparedness and Response with Vulnerable Populations. He has worked for over 20 years with the fire service, recently published an article focusing on child and family emergency preparedness and has spoken on American Indian Emergency preparedness and response.

Pictured above is Dr. Beaton hand feeding a Grey Jay (Perisoreus canadensis) at Lake Valhalla near Stevens Pass, Washington.